• insight
  • March 31, 2017

Online and Offline. Mobile Remittance, Death of Distance and Creation of Space.

 Mobile Remittance disrupts long-established processes of money transfers- many of which are brick and mortar. Yet at the same time, by embracing the traditional brick and mortar context, digital players can expand the market and look for sustained success.

In the dense, humming metropolises of Southeast Asia, there are remittance hubs where the individual and community come together. There is an active hunt for bargains, especially the best possible forex rate. Incentives have to be considered. There are influences. It is not uncommon for people to walk into a remittance shop in groups. A feeling of assurance? Reinforcing biases through mutual consent? Perhaps so. The first person comes up to ask more about mobile remittance services. His or her friends look on, waiting on the sidelines. Shop assistants try to make them feel at home. The registration was done, the transaction completed, it is not unlikely that the sender will return the following weekend. This leads to an interesting challenge. In using mobile remittance, distance has been eliminated. But a new space has been created and it is up to the service provider to make that space sustain. Online is now tied firmly to offline.

It does help if you are located closer to points of convergence. What are those points? A popular hairdresser, food stalls, and convenience stores. In other places, it could be a travel agent. Many customers sign up, download the app, make their first transactions and walk away. They need not come back again as they can reload and remit entirely from their devices. Will that be the case?

I propose that two things will occur. One, more customers, both new and existing will visit. More people will also use the mobile phone to remit. Two, the people who send money by phone will return to the store repeatedly to participate in the social aspect of remittances. They will ask about offers and new products. They will meet others and swap stories. They will bring friends with them. Their phones and social networks-ironically-will pull in more footfalls into the stores.

The physical aspect of service delivery deserves some attention. It is not just decor or friendliness. Incentivizing repeat visitors on becoming brand ambassadors would be important. Attending to some basic needs of tired visitors may help. For example, would free bottles of water or an extra bench matter? Maybe. We have some way to go beyond a superficial reading of immigrant cultures; getting them face to face periodically with some of their celebrities and role models may generate significant momentum around the brand.

As mobile remittance tech companies increasingly turn into consumer brands, distance dies and space is created. Context shifts between the online and the real world and with it, influence, choice, and market share. That is the opportunity. That is the challenge.


  1. November 6, 2013. “The Internet Killed Distance. Mobile Computing brought it back.” MIT Technology Review. Cambridge, Massachusets.