How Remitly’s Matt Oppenheimer built a mobile-first remittance company

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Matt Oppenheimer is CEO of Remitly.

What is Remitly and where did you get the inspiration to found it?

Matt Oppenheimer - Remitly
Matt Oppenheimer, Remitly

Remitly is a mobile payments remittance service that is changing the way people send money internationally. I was working for Barclays in Kenya where I saw first-hand the challenges and strain on people trying to send money to family members overseas. We have taken careful steps since launching in 2012 to create a fast, reliable and transparent service.

Payments is getting really competitive — how is Remitly different?

Historically, remittance services have been defined by companies like Western Union and MoneyGram offering high and hidden fees, poor user experience, and limited mobile and web options. For years, tech companies have worked to erode the financial services industry. Remitly isn’t the first company to disrupt the status quo, but we are taking a very different approach from our peers. We’re putting our customers first but going super deep where the biggest addressable markets and pain points exist.

The typical software company in our industry counts vanity metrics such as the number of regions served. Our measures of success are different. We value customers above all else so we offer a great experience at a reasonable cost.

You provide service into 3 specific geos — why did you chose those? What goes into the decision about which corridor to service? Are you going to launch new corridors?

We purposely focus on three targeted corridors – India, the Philippines and Mexico – to get the product right and deliver on promises to customers. They are also three of the top five largest receive corridors in the world – U.S. to Mexico alone is the largest international remittance corridor. It takes a lot of work to perfect a money transfer between countries, regulators and financial institutions.  Now that we have this product, we’re scaling up globally and continuing to stay focused on the largest corridors where there are the most customers to serve.

How important is mobile in today’s remittance market?

It’s not just important, it’s critical. We built the first truly mobile-first remittance company. While others are trying to move offline businesses to the web, we focused first on mobile. We were the first to enable Touch ID for iOS users, we were the first remittance service with built-in messaging capabilities and we were the first and only service to provide an app for both the sender and receiver. Everything we’ve done with mobile has been in service of enabling easier and more meaningful experiences for our customers.

It’s important, however, to recognize when mobile fintech solutions are not solving customer pain points. One hype-filled example is mobile wallets: stored value accessed via a mobile device often built by carriers and banks. I offer one data point to cut through the hype: If you take a random set of 100,000 money transfer transactions at Remitly, roughly 19 of them will involve mobile wallets. That is a whopping 0.019 percent of our customers, generally tech-savvy folks who are using a mobile fintech service, who use the app to send money to mobile wallets.

What’s in the pipeline for 2016?

We’ve grown our company into the largest independent digital remittance firm in the U.S. and we’re committed to continue to grow our business and build new features into our product to enable deeper and better connections for our customers. In 2016 you can expect to see us open up new receive and send corridors and introduce new product features to our service.

[podcast] Why a 164 year old payments giant partnered with the hottest social media tool on the planet

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One of the themes we’re tracking here at Tradestreaming is the confluence of incumbent financial institutions with new technologies, platforms, and tools. When you look at some of the largest and oldest financial institutions, some are indeed embracing the future.

Western Union is one of those firms. You’re probably familiar with the fact that Western Union provides consumers and businesses with a variety of ways to send and receive money around the world. Through multiple brands , the company, which is 164 years old, has built a combined network of over 500,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories and over 100,000 ATMs and kiosks, giving it the capability to send money to hundreds of millions of accounts. In 2014, The Western Union Company completed 255 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving $85 billion of principal between consumers, and 484 million business payments.

David Thompson, CIO of Western Union
David Thompson, CIO of Western Union

The scale is pretty staggering and what’s interesting is how the firm is embracing some of the same tools its customers are using. A recent study by McKinsey estimated that by 2020, 12% of global remittances will be initiated via social media and communications platforms. To this end, earlier in the fall, Western Union launched the WUConnect service, which opens Western Union’s internal transaction processing network to platforms that want to offer social and text payment capabilities to their own customers.

The company created application programming interfaces and a software developer’s kit to let social networks, like Facebook, access the service. And just a couple of weeks ago, the company announced that WeChat, the Chinese communications platform, is rolling out an integration that would enable its 650M active users to send money to one another over the WU Connect service.

David Thompson, Western Union’s Chief Information Officer, joins us today on the Tradestreaming Podcast to discuss how his firm views the convergence of social, technology, and finance and how he’s helped manage the internal processes to ensure Western Union stays competitive and relevant throughout the evolution of today’s technology.

Listen to the FULL episode

What you’ll hear in this week’s podcast:

  • The inherent socialness of payments and why it makes sense for apps/social platforms to offer peer to peer payments
  • WUConnect, Western Union’s API / SDK suite to integrate cross-border payments into social media networks
  • What’s driving the partnership with WeChat, China’s leading social media communications platform with 650M monthly users
  • How payments can drive additional stickiness to large social platforms
  • Strategy drill-down on Western Union’s global leadership in cross-border and digital payments
  • How Western Union’s competitiveness is driven by a large investment in regulatory compliance in 200 countries around the world
  • David’s view on the challenges in cross-border, cross-currency money transfer and what he and Western Union have done to solve for these
  • Why McKinsey believes that by 2020, 12% of global remittances will be initiated via social media and messaging platforms
  • What David has planned for new types of partnerships in 2016 as well as new functionality slated to be launched as part of WUConnect


This week’s episode of the Tradestreaming Podcast was sponsored by Collective2 — automated trading for humans.

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Photo credit: sandklef / Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA