Misleading Information on Cost of Remittances is Irresponsible

Ideas and Issues

Little Rock   The good news for the Remittance Justice Campaign in recent weeks has been significant.  The bill was reintroduced in Ontario to cap the cost of remittances at 5% in line with the G-8 large industrial countries and World Bank goals.  Studies by students at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and the Georgia State University School of Social Work in Atlanta have both found continuing experiences with an array of immigrant groups with very high predatory costs of remittances, potentially setting the stage for action in British Columbia and even the United States.

            And, then on the other hand we have misleading, boosterish pieces in the New York Times with headlines saying, “Immigrants Pay Lower Fees to Send Money Home, Helping to Ease Poverty,” by Natalie Kitroeff.   Now, if the headline had read, “If Immigrants are Able to Pay Lower Fees to Send Money Home, it would Ease Poverty,” they would be singing our song. Ms. Kitroeff knows this as well, but buries the point at the bottom of the third paragraph saying, “The cost of sending money to other countries has also declined sharply, though not by quite as much.”  Once said, she and the article go merrily back to being shills for Western Union, MoneyGram and their competitors.

            Of course she is really only talking about the cost of remittances dropping on the Mexico pathway, where in fact for a decade there has been increased competition and, importantly, the nearness of the borders and interlocking family relationships also allow informal money transfers reducing the cost as well and then there are interlocking corporate ownership of major banks allowing reduced fees there too.  The claim that the cost is only 5% is preposterous and this has been reaffirmed not only in ACORN International’s study  but also in the supplemental work done in 2012 by a student researcher with the Clinton School of Public Service working with ACORN members in the Mexico City area.  Additionally without saying the amounts transferred, the 5% has no meaning.  The more remitted, the lower the cost.  The ACORN studies have all been done on $100 transfers since that is closest to the average amount remitted.  If someone is sending thousands, there cost is much, much less as a percentage.

            We have nuggets of truth and preposterous misstatements based on thin air or worse.

            Hitting the nail on the head and perfectly aligned with our position is this statement:

“Remittances may well be the best single way to foment development,” said Nancy Birdsall, the president of the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research group in Washington. “It turns out that even a modest reduction in the cost of making remittance transfers adds up to a substantial amount compared to official aid.”

On the other hand we have an economist for the World Bank making this wild and totally misleading claim:

Worldwide, costs for sending remittances to any country have come down from around 15 percent per $300 transaction in the late 1990s to below 10 percent today, Mr. [Dilip] Ratha said.

            When average remittances are hardly over $100 for migrant workers and immigrant families, other than acting as a spokesperson for Western Union, what is the merit of the claim that the cost for a $300 transfer supposedly averages less than 10%?  If virtually no one is sending money at that level, how is that reducing poverty in the way a real reduction in fees would do?   Finally, the World Bank has been claiming for years that the global transfer costs were 10%, despite the fact that it is impossible to prove that figure is real, and believe me, we’ve tried!

            The issue here is what is being counted, just the cost of sending or also the cost of currency exchange and even the assessment of pickup fees by many of the companies are not included.  In this mishmash of misinformation the Times almost gets that point, but misses it still…

In addition to fees covering the processing, remittance companies make money from converting currencies. Remittance experts say these exchange rate fees have not come down nearly as much in recent years.  In a meeting in 2011, finance ministers from the Group of 20 countries committed to reducing remittance costs over all from around 10 percent to 5 percent per transaction by 2014.

This issue is so important and real reform on the predatory costs of remittances across the globe would make such a huge difference, it really is about time that everyone made the effort to get it right.

 Misleading Info on Remittances Audio Blog