Catherine Wines has seen how technology has impacted the remittance business. When she co-founded WorldRemit in 2010, she envisioned doing to remittance what the online travel agencies had done to their industry. Fast forward a few years and her firm, WorldRemit is one of the fastest growing tech companies in the U.K. and from a valuation perspective, is progressing toward unicorn status.
On the podcast this week, we talk about what prompted her to take on such a large, stodgy industry and why it’s been so hard to move money internationally. We discuss her view on the role of cash in our economy and WorldRemit’s international growth plans.
Catherine Wines is our guest today on the Tearsheet Podcast.
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Below are highlights from the episode, edited for clarity.
Why get into remittance?
I used to work in another company doing remittance, but the old fashioned way. People would need to go to a shop to send money. When I left my previous company, I met Ismail Ahmed through a common friend. He had this idea of bringing remittance into the 21st century by bringing the industry online.
We’ve often made the comparison to travel agents. Years ago, when you wanted to book a flight, you used to go to a travel agent in a physical location. It was the same with money remittance. Now, you wouldn’t think of booking a flight by going to a shop. You do it online. That’s what we wanted to do with moving money: make it a lot more convenient and a lot cheaper. By doing this, we knew we would compete with the large incumbents like Western Union and Moneygram.
Why has it been so hard to move money internationally?
You have to establish quite a large network. In order for us to be able to send money and have a customer receive it almost instantaneously, you need to have a lot of partners in the recipient’s country like in Africa, the Philippines, or Africa. Building that network takes a long time and is quite costly.On the send side, in order to be able to send money, you need to get a license, and that can be quite expensive and time consuming. For example, in the U.S., you have to apply for a license in each and every state. We started in 2014 and now, we have licenses in 48 of 50 states.
Where are the banks in the remittance business?
Banks have never really gone into remittance because of the need to build these partnerships. Banks couldn’t provide the service that their customers wanted. Our products is very much for economic migrants, working overseas and sending money home. They need to send smaller sums of money pretty quickly. Banks just couldn’t compete because they work on Swift, which is quite slow and expensive.
Where do you see growth in the business coming from?
Sending money is about a $500 billion market. A large amount is still sent informally, like people carrying cash with them. There’s a big push to move that to more formal channels, like us, making it more convenient and cheaper. We started seven years ago in Europe, and now we’ve expanded to 50 send countries going to about 140 destinations.
We’re still a relatively small competitor compared to Western Union, so we’re trying to grow our business in existing markets while we expand to new ones.