The Rise of Mobile Money

ISSUE #59 – Interview with Eric Barbier, Chief Executive Officer, TransferTo

 

From your perspective, how has Singapore’s start-up ecosystem evolved in the past few years?

Eric BarbierThe start-up scene has dramatically changed over the last five years. We can see a lot of young (and not so young) people taking more risks and innovating. However, the focus is still very much on the Asian market. I believe both startups and investors should think global and not only Asia. There is definitely room for growth when it comes to thinking global.

Is Singapore the new hot spot for venture capitalists? What are the main differences between Singapore and Silicon Valley?

We have seen a big leap in terms of professionalism. Several big Silicon Valley venture capitalists have now set up a base in Singapore. The culture of sharing has also greatly improved. The main difference is that Singapore has a small domestic market, so you need to seek and fi nd external expansion quite early. Silicon Valley doesn’t face this challenge.

Can you describe TransferTo’s vision and activities?

With one billion people set to use mobile money by 2020, TransferTo’s Mobile Money Hub is connecting telco partners and financial institutions to create the largest network of newly banked customers across the globe.

TransferTo helps businesses offer mobile money and airtime top-ups around the world in real time. Our global Mobile Money Hub provides an essential combination of services and technology to mobile telecommunication companies and financial institutions including MTN, Singtel, Orange, Western Union, PayPal, and Xoom.

Thousands of companies in over 100 countries depend on TransferTo to provide mobile financial transactions for their customers without the need for a bank account. TransferTo’s clients are companies whose consumer bases consist largely of people connecting with family and friends back home.

There are 2 billion unbanked people in the world and, of those, the vast majority have access to a mobile phone.

Who do you work with in Singapore and in the region?

Our first commercial transfer was between Malaysia and Indonesia. We’re now working with most countries in the region. In Singapore our partners include Singtel, StarHub and SingPost.

What are the main challenges in the remittance market?

According to the World Bank, there are 2 billion unbanked people in the world, i.e. those that do not have a bank account and, of those, the vast majority have access to a mobile phone.

With over $600 billion in remittances sent each year as friends and families support each other across borders, it is inconvenient for people in the rural communities of emerging economies to try and receive money through traditional bank-to-bank transfers.

However, traditional remittance methods using an agent are typically expensive and inconvenient. End users must fi nd an agent in their nearest town – which, for the most remote locations, can take up to one or two days. It has proven much easier for them to receive funds through their mobile phones. Therefore, the mobile phone has already become the perfect vehicle to bring financial services to the unbanked.

What can be done to foster financial inclusion in emerging countries?

Mobile Money is already creating a cashless revolution in developing markets where mobile phones have seen widespread adoption and banks accounts are less common. Put very simply, Mobile Money essentially turns a mobile device into a bank account for the unbanked, allowing funds to be accessed in various forms by mobile users.

Mobile operators strive to understand how they can provide Mobile Money services to their customers, to ensure that they are part of this growing industry driving financial inclusion for the unbanked. This includes both inbound and outbound remittance services, as well as other Mobile Money account services including bill payment, mobile airtime purchase, peer-to-peer transfer and direct transactions with merchants at point of sale. In the future, that could extend to other products such as savings, credit and insurance.

 

Interview published in the FOCUS Magazine “The Enterprising Spirit” – Issue #1 2016