New Orleans As we were debating next steps for ACORN International’s Remittance Justice Campaign in Bristol, it was exciting to hear that Italy and Honduras are beginning to make more progress in taking the steps to get legislative assemblies to regulate the costs of transfers, and certainly as ACORN grows in the United Kingdom there are discussions about linking with the parliamentary committees that had offered support earlier. Sitting in London’s Heathrow Airport waiting to fly home, we got our hands on an international edition of the Times and saw an article that seemed to herald a potential breakthrough on the logjam at least for the more digitally enabled among our members.
The oft repeated claim of all of the techno-wizards is that they exploit “inefficiencies” among legacy companies and in outdated marketplaces. Certainly when it comes to the multi-billion dollar rip-offs of migrant workers and immigrant families, banks and money transfer organizations have had no interest in lowering the fees to more accurately reflect the real costs of transferring cash in our lightning fast digital age, wanting instead to continue the predatory practices as long as possible. The story focused on a start-up called Transfer-Wise based in London that has developed technology allowing peer-to-peer transfers of money that eliminate all of the charges larded on by the financial companies. Currently, the company allows transfers within the European Union countries including the UK obviously. Are they ready to bring it to the USA and Canada? In effect they say, hell, yes, but the major hurdle is getting banking licenses.
Transfer-Wise isn’t the only horse in this race. Certainly, there’s Square, which has undercut the banking control of point-of-sale retail devices using with lower fees and enabled collections using smartphones and other credit cards. There’s also something called CurrencyFair based in Ireland and run by an Australian that offers an exchange service and has moved over a billion worth of cash as well. Part of the money financing Transfer-Wise is coming from the founders of PayPal, which is in fact a clunky way to transfer monies now, but less useful as a replacement for standard remittances in our experiences. Intriguingly, they report a rumor that the company may be in talks with Facebook for a facility that would allow money transfers over the social network. Of course whenever they say it might be a rumor, we can’t discount the fact that they may have started the rumor themselves, but, regardless, if you perk up your ears you can start to hear the death rattle for the banking and MTO cash register that the legacy financial companies have made out of desperate families trying to support each other country to country.
I hate to rain on my own good news here, but as much as I’m rooting for these peer-to-peer alternatives, the next problem will be delivery and how all of our people can bridge the digital divide enough to benefit from cheaper money transfer systems. Nevertheless, we’ll cross that bridge next if at least there’s a way to cut out the greedy middlemen finally, no thanks to our governments and banking regulators.