How social media created new corridors for Azimo's cross-border payments

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Cross-border remittance firms have seen strong growth over the past few years as consumers migrate away from their family and send funds home, and Azimo is certainly benefiting from this trend.

Launched in 2012, London-based Azimo notched triple-digit growth in October over the previous year, with payment volume growth exceeding 200% in three key remittance corridors—Poland, Nigeria and Moldova—underscoring the diversity of customer and channel mix.

Azimo’s momentum reflects its tight focus on a base of mostly European-based migrants who routinely send funds to family members around the world via digital channels, said Michael Kent, Azimo’s founder and CEO. This is in contrast to mainstream remittance firms that have a bigger share of bank-initiated transactions in their mix, Kent said.

“Many of our competitors focus on wealthier consumers or concentrate on payments between one or two key remittance corridors, but our volume is spread widely across different global regions, creating many unusual combinations of sending and receiving markets,” Kent said.

The main spark for Azimo’s transaction growth in far-flung geographic regions came from its commitment to social media beginning four years ago, with a Facebook integration enabling an easy enrollment for first-time recipients, according to Kent.

“We were the first company globally to allow sending money across borders via social media back in February 2013, and Facebook continues to act as one of our main referral sources for customers, who tend to be in regular contact on the channel with their peers,” Kent said. “The [Facebook] Messenger approach assures the recipient’s details are correct and it cuts out the middle process where senders have to enter any other information about the recipient."

This year, Azimo introduced the ability for its users to invite other customers via WhatsApp, and within six months the chat platform has become Azimo’s leading customer referral source, he said.

“We send money in lots of different ways, and it’s surprising how unique each market is from another, even within the same region,” Kent said, noting that in Thailand, 90% of Azimo recipients prefer to receive funds via a bank account, but in the Philippines 76% of Azimo payouts are via cash through its network of retail agent partners.

About a third of Azimo’s payments volume flows to destinations in Asia, but so far the company has no connections to China, due to regulatory constraints.

Other cross-border remittance firms are leveraging social media as a mechanism for promoting and sending funds-transfers, heightening competition in the niche, noted Talie Baker, a senior analyst with Aite Group.

Western Union enables customers of Tencent’s WeChat messaging platform to send remittances from within the WeChat app; TransferWise enables users to send funds with Facebook Messenger via a bot and Fastacash also supports cross-border payments via social media, she noted.

“I think we're going to see consolidation in the remittance market at some point—there are a lot of fintech companies establishing themselves as digital-only remittances, and competition on cost is a significant factor for all players,” Baker said.

But because of the variable factors in pricing, no single company can claim to be the lowest- cost provider, and existing growth patterns suggest plenty of opportunity in the market, she said.

“Sending money via agent-based remittance channels is still in high demand, but this will shift as millennials shift into position as the dominant consumer group globally and we’ll see more people sending money digitally,” Baker predicted.

Based on its current growth, Azimo is less concerned about immediate pressure from competitors, said Kamran Ansari, a partner at venture capital firm Greycroft, a longtime backer of the company who also serves on Azimo’s board.

“Azimo built strong momentum in part by leveraging social media and following it up with support for the markets that responded, creating a flywheel of growth with unusual combinations of corridors of people sending money from Europe to anywhere in the world,” Ansari said.

Azimo has raised $35 million so far in funding from U.S.-based Greycroft, the U.K.’s Frog Capital, Rakuten in Asia and eVentures, and the company plans to continue growing through a mix of its own revenue reinvestments and outside investment, Kent said.

“Digital channels, including mobile wallets, are a fast-growing piece of our business in places like India, but there’s still so much growth available as people abandon traditional brick-and-mortar approaches to remittances that we see plenty of opportunity ahead,” Kent said.

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Cross border payments Online payments Remittances