Mobile making a difference in international money transfers
Even as mobile payments at the point of sale have been slow or even faltering, as most research indicates, use of mobile for making large money transfers appears to be skyrocketing.
While those mobile options represent entirely different use cases, companies like the currency exchange and global transfer provider XE.com benefit when consumers turn to mobile devices to send funds overseas. And if these consumers have already become comfortable with mobile transactions at the point of sale, all the better.
"A majority of our customers interact with us on a mobile device," said Simon Griffin, CEO of the XE Money Transfer Division. "A few years ago, this number was around 40% and we see this as a significant indicator of the market moving toward mobile technology."
While money transfer companies don't compete directly with the mobile retail experience, they will monitor how consumers are using their devices in all settings, Griffin said.
"We increasingly recognize that consumers are getting used to paying with wallets like Apple Pay in certain stores, and this informs us of the customer experience, and the type of experience they expect when making money transfers," Griffin added.
XE.com, a unit of transaction processor and transfer provider Euronet, says its bank-to-bank currency exchange information and transfer app has had more than 58 million downloads. Those who register for Euronet services can use the XE app to get redirected to the mobile site to send funds.
This bodes well for XE.com's recent push into the U.S., a market it sees as having fewer money transfer competitors, while featuring more young mobile-savvy consumers making international transactions.
XE.com made its soft launch into the U.S. market late last year as a money transfer service after Euronet acquired the company a year earlier, acting as a provider of digital foreign exchange information. Prior to that, the company did not have a significant presence in the U.S., operating more heavily in Canada, Australia, the U.K. and European markets.
"The mobile technology impacts us in the way we acquire customers, primarily through many online channels and social media outlets," Griffin said. "It is also important in how customers want to interact with us, and the big shift is around how they want to engage with us through a mobile device. A few years ago, it was from desktop or laptop."
Consumers are increasingly willing to make money transfers overseas through a mobile app for high-value transactions, such as buying real estate, paying for vacations, a child's education or for overseas weddings.
Mobile has moved to the forefront for all transfer companies, whether the service is for migrants to send remittances to families overseas or for individuals or businesses to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars.
XE.com surveyed its U.S. consumers from November 2016 to May 2017 and found a willingness to pay through mobile devices, providing insights and numbers as to where current and potential customers might be sending U.S. dollars.
Bill payments for personal or business-related expenses came in at $30 million, while money transfers for living expenses were $26.6 million. There were more than $32 million in real-estate transfers (mortgage and rental payments), with the most going to Spain.
"We want to keep track of what is changing over time, and it might lead us to new customers, as we could partner in the real estate market or with property developers or property lawyers," Griffin added.
It is also not unusual to see U.S. consumers transferring money for "medical tourism," a scenario in which someone might get cheaper dental work overseas while on vacation or a procedure they cannot get in their own country, Griffin said.
XE.com is making an attractive price play in the U.S. market, targeting a revenue stream that banks are increasingly unable to compete with and, in some cases, are not in a position to do so, said industry analyst Russ Schoper of Atlanta-based Business Development International Inc.
"This isn’t going to affect the banks too much because other than Wells Fargo and a couple others, many don't do a lot of money transfers," Schoper said. "Banks that have a lot of Asian, Chinese or Mexican customers, those are the ones targeting money transfer services."
But until the bank-supported Zelle and other P-to-P products advance to the point where international payments become part of the scheme, the lion's share of the money transfer business will fall with MoneyGram, Western Union and Euronet, Schoper added.
XE.com is wise to consider a stronger presence in the U.S., Schoper said, considering that roughly $134 billion of an overall $582 billion in remittances were coming out of the U.S. less than two years ago.
Euronet had previously found itself in the middle of a contentious bidding war against Ant Financial to acquire MoneyGram, a move that would significantly bolster either of the payments services companies. MoneyGram, however, indicated this week that it is still on track to complete a deal agreed upon in May with Ant Financial, which operates Alipay in China.