“Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
– Warren Buffett
Transfast presents a particularly interesting case among providers of international person–to–person remittances. While we often read about startups or bitcoin taking on the industry’s largest players, Western Union and MoneyGram, Transfast is unique in being an independent, private equity–backed company that is in–between those extremes. Transfast straddles both offline and online worlds across the globe, while being nimble enough to maintain an entrepreneurial / startup culture. Since 2008, Transfast has grown ten times, expanding from a narrow focus of sending money between the U.S. and Latin American corridors to a truly global provider. Their story and insights on the industry are quite unique and informative.
This blog is specific to Transfast – if you are looking for more general knowledge on the best ways to transfer money, check other SaveOnSend blog posts.
We will cover questions like:
Should I use Transfast to transfer money from the U.S. to India, Philippines, Mexico or China?
How do Transfast’s fees and exchange rates compare with other money transfer companies?
How is Transfast different vs. other online remittance providers?
We will structure this post as follows:
1. Transfast’s history in money transfer
2. Transfast’s pricing: fees + FX markup (exchange rate)
3. Whether or not you should use Transfast for money transfer
4. Transfast CEO’s views on the money transfer industry and current trends
TransFast: Money Transfer History
Transfast Money Transfer CEO, Samish Kumar, meets with Ghana’s President Mahama
Like the Chilean–born CEO of Ria Money Transfer, Juan Bianchi, Transfast’s CEO, Samish Kumar (on the right in the above photo), also has immigrant roots. Samish was born in India and as a child received monthly remittances from his mother, who was working in Nigeria as a teacher. He then moved to Nigeria with his younger brother to live with her. Just before the military coup in Nigeria (1984), the family moved to the United States.
After coming to the U.S., Samish earned a degree in aerospace engineering and landed on Wall Street. There, his emerging markets experience gave him a visceral understanding of how money sent from developed nations impacts the economies and daily life of people in developing nations. Samish’s first professional engagement on this topic was in the aftermath of the 1st Gulf War, when due to a spike in oil prices, India experienced a serious balance-of-payments crisis. Thanks to remittances from Indians living overseas, the country’s economy received a crucial lifeline. Samish noticed similar patterns during the 1997 financial crisis across Asia, when remittances proved to be the most reliable source of capital as private investments evaporated.
After Wall Street, Samish worked in private equity, overseeing startups and learning from successes and failures. Keeping a keen eye on global remittances, he noticed that after 9/11, the barriers to entry into this industry were growing, due to increased compliance requirements. In April 2007, Samish partnered with GCP Capital Partners to acquire Transfast. The company had declining revenues of ~20%/year, was processing around $0.5B in volume and focused mostly on Latin American corridors. Samish’s long-term vision for Transfast was based on the Walmart model: to provide everyday low prices, great customer service, and to deploy the best systems and operations to drive costs lower.
Transfast working environment: Global HQ at 44 Wall Street, New York, USA
Since 2007, when it was acquired by a private equity firm, Transfast has grown to process $6.5B in volumes annually becoming a top-20 money transfer provider:
Similarly to other providers that offer both offline and online transfers, Transfast’s cash business is stagnating while its digital side was growing 100+% till 2015 and at increasingly slower pace since then, repeating digital growth trajectories of other players (read this SaveOnSend article for more details):
Around half of Transfast’s business is from the U.S. with the rest is mostly out of Middle East. Its biggest transfer destinations are Philippines, where it has about 7% market share, and India.
Transfast’s pricing: money transfer fees + FX markup (exchange rate)
Review two tables below that compare providers for sending money from USA to India and Philippines:
Comparison of Providers – USA-to-India, $1,500, bank-to-bank, May 22, 2017
Comparison of providers: USA-to-Philippines, USD-PHP, $500, bank-to-bank, Feb 17 2017
As you can see, despite difference in corridors and amounts, Transfast is among less expensive providers, but not the cheapest. Because it is owned by a private equity firm, as opposed to a venture capital or public market, it must focus on profitability above growth.
Like Xoom, Transfast focuses on approving most transactions instantly, delivering in near real-time 100% of cash and ~70% of online money transfers. Compare Transfast for other scenarios using SaveOnSend app.
At this point, some of you could be confused how Transfast could be more expensive for some countries, since you might remember seeing their ads about “Zero Transfer Fees” (like the one below).
Transfast money transfer ads in New Jersey for sending money from USA to India, April 13, 2015
This is a common advertising method among money transmitters. Since we, as consumers, seem to pay much more attention to fees rather than exchange rates, providers often advertise “zero fees” while making money on the FX markup. As we discussed in another SaveOnSend blog post, each provider charges a different combination of margins (fee + FX markup). For example, if you look at FX markups across money transmitters for sending money to India, they are not only significantly different across providers, but each provider changes its FX markup on a daily basis:
In January 2017, Transfast received $40 million credit facility, but from comments of the company’s private equity owners it wasn’t clear if it is truly an additional investment or a replacement of previous funding.
Whether or not you should use Transfast for money transfer
So should you try Transfast or not? The answer depends on your preferences, on where you are sending money, and your favorite receiving-sending method. If you are ok to wait few days and are are looking for the cheapest provider, TransferWise or Ria could work better for you. If you need instant money transfer and wider availability of cash/bank locations in Philippines AND are willing to pay for it, Transfast would be a good option.
After you try Transfast, please leave feedback using our SaveOnSend app – help others to make a more informed choice.
Transfast CEO views on industry trends
As consumers and participants in the remittance industry, it is easy to get confused about industry trends and comparisons across providers. Transfast’s CEO shared his perspective on the industry:
What are the major differences across providers?
Transfast money transfer focus is on fast transaction speed and good customer service at value prices. We have done great and love our business, but we continue to push the boundaries when it comes to innovation and improvements.
Transfast has built its own proprietary network & partners across the world. Most startups use third-party services, network aggregators, and corresponding banking rails which costs more and limits their ability to manage risk and processes. By operating and owning our network, Transfast money transfer to banks accomplished in the fastest way, while always knowing where our customers’ money is at all times – we never use third-party rails.
Another difference is related to our business operation model. For example, by leveraging more data, Xoom seems to be further along than us in evolving risk management systems, approving approximately 90% of transactions in real time. Transfast money transfers approved instantly for 70% of online transactions, and we are working to optimize risk management models so that they will be on par or better in the immediate future. However, based on Xoom’s financials, it would seem that over the years they had much greater appetite for risk and sustaining losses. Transfast, as a private equity backed company, has preferred to take the more conservative approach.
Like Western Union, MoneyGram and Ria, Transfast money transfer service is catering to the preferences of the majority of remittance consumers. Our customers want fast banks transfers, low fees and a cash pick-up option for large unbanked segments at destinations. They don’t mind spending reasonable amount of money to get such service. Most other providers, even Xoom, can’t offer services such as cash pick-up in key destinations like India (Transfast own a license from the Reserve Bank of India to enable cash pick up).
Why sending money online couldn’t be almost free
There are fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs are extensive – for example, every state in the US requires licensing, bonding, and the provider needs to prefund payers in the destination countries, etc. The variable costs include paying fees to a linked bank/plastic card issuer (e.g., 30 cents for an ACH transaction, % of principal amount for a card transaction) and paying commissions to a receiving bank or partner on the receiving side (~$2 or more). Because Transfast money transfers are instant for ~70% of online transactions, the company assumes certain amount of risk on such transactions, which is driving a significant cost.
There are also high fraud risks and costs associated with prevention. The most common fraud is “NSF Fraud”, when a customer submits Transfast money transfer without having sufficient funds in their bank account. Another frequent fraud type is when customers dispute a transaction, claiming that they didn’t send the money. By law, consumers are allowed to dispute it for up to 12 months, long after the money is transferred. These types of frauds could be a significant amount of all transactions for some destinations. In most cases, we would find proof of fraud and don’t lose the money, but it takes time and resources to resolve.
What do remittance consumers care about the most?
Transfast money transfer customers are a very diverse group; everybody compares products based on how long it takes for funds to arrive, the fees-FX element, and service quality, but each destination and sub-segment of customers has its own preference order among those factors.
Overall, customers are pretty set in their sending channel choices; we see almost no cross-over from offline-to-online usage, maybe 1-2% annually. The big increase in online/mobile money transfer is coming not from retail/cash users, but from consumers who used to rely on bank wire transfers.
Indian customers using Transfast money transfers are really an exception because of their unique profile. Many of them are so called “knowledge workers” who come to the U.S. on H1B visas to work in information technology and finance. They are more tech savvy and comfortable with using online/mobile tools in comparison to other large remittance groups among migrants.
What worries you the most in the current market environment?
As more consumers come online, we are seeing progressively higher amounts and more sophisticated attempts at fraud. Account takeovers and identity theft which are becoming increasingly popular with fraudsters. There are other types of non-transactional frauds that we have never experienced, such as business email compromise, but are still worrisome to us. We also have to address threats of global money laundering, crime and terrorism. We take compliance very seriously, and as a result, 10+% of our workforce is in compliance.
In the current “cheap” capital environment, where it is relatively easy to get funding from Venture Capitalists or get public financing via an IPO, we see more startups entering the field that offer services without a profitable business model. This might be a great development for consumers in the short-term, but what would happen to these businesses and their customers when cheap funding disappears during the next financial crisis, like in 2001 and 2008?
Hopefully, you found this overview helpful and feel more confident in your choices of whether or not to use Transfast money transfer services from USA to India, Philippines, Mexico, or China. If we missed anything, please leave a comment. We will be keeping this post regularly updated, so come back soon!