Overview of Thunes’ Cross-border Remittance Network
Thunes overcame the challenges associated with inconvenient access by building a large and affordable remittance touch point network in the CLMV countries. Thunes’ cross-border mobile payments network links money transfer operators, digital financial services operators, mobile wallets providers, financial institutions, non-governmental organizations and global merchants to facilitate money transfers to and from emerging markets. More specifically, Thunes collects and passes on remittance instructions using Application Program Interface (API) connections. A model of this scale hopes to lower capital and operational expenses, thus allowing receivers and senders to enjoy lower transaction fees.
Thunes collaborates with receiving partners who offer last-mile financial services to unserved and underserved rural women, thus bringing formal remittance services to these recipients. This is in addition to a variety of other financial services such as microfinance loan repayment, savings account deposit and cash pick-up.
To expand its reach in the CLMV countries, Thunes, as part this project, onboarded new receiving partners and worked on creating an extensive network of touch points while expanding their existing model in these countries. For example, Thunes teamed up with a mobile money service provider in Cambodia, where their customers’ remittance transactions were processed by Thunes for the first time in March 2018. In Viet Nam, Thunes partnered with a financial institution, which added over 30 bank branches and 10,000 cash pick-up locations to Thunes’ network to better reach remittance recipients. In Myanmar, Thunes’ partnership with its first financial institution partner in 2018 helped to establish their remittance corridor with the country, allowing them to reach accounts in the partner’s network comprising of 39 banks operating in the country. The second financial institution partner in Myanmar joined Thunes’ network in 2019 to facilitate real-time remittance transfers into the country.
While expanding their network, Thunes also onboarded new sending partners. For example, in Myanmar, the two main remittance sending corridors of Thunes are the Korea-Myanmar and Singapore-Myanmar corridors. For the Korea-Myanmar corridor, Thunes has partnered with several sending companies in Korea to facilitate safe and swift remittances to Myanmar. For the Singapore-Myanmar corridor, Singtel Dash (another winner of the SHIFT ASEAN Remittance Challenge Fund window), has partnered with Thunes to send remittances from Singapore to Myanmar. Since starting in mid-2019, the total number of Myanmar senders and beneficiaries using Singtel Dash has exceeded 2,000 by the end of 2019. SHIFT ASEAN's support has enabled Thunes and Singtel Dash to take the lead in establishing a strong remittance corridor into Myanmar, building on synergies between the two winners.
Project Results and Impact
Since project initiation, Thunes has onboarded four new receiving partners:
- One partner in Cambodia at the start of 2018
- The first partner in Myanmar at the end of 2018
- One partner in Viet Nam in mid-2019
- The second partner in Myanmar at the end of 2019
Through these partners, Thunes had an estimated transaction amount of US$ 117 million in transactions to these countries across all quarters since implementation.
Women remain the main beneficiaries of the remittance service, where the percentage of women receivers have grown from 58 percent at initiation in 2018 to over 70 percent in 2019. Viet Nam forms the largest share of the total value of remittances to date, while the number of people receiving remittances in Cambodia and Myanmar have grown significantly since project implementation. By the end of 2019, the average remittance amount was the highest in Myanmar, followed by Viet Nam and Cambodia respectively. Thunes is further exploring potential partnerships in Lao PDR.
Thunes Implementation Learnings
Through the Challenge Fund, Thunes was able to expand its network to the CLMV countries, providing cross-border migrants with a safe, convenient and accessible way to remit money home. It worked closely with financial service providers to increase the number of touch points so that receivers can easily cash-out the funds, while also establishing partnerships with sending financial service providers to drive the volume of transactions.
Since project initiation, the proportion of receivers who are women has also increased, thus showing its success at reaching this underserved customer segment. With increased usage of formal remittance channels, money can make their way safely to households in the CLMV countries. These remittances constitute a large proportion of receivers’ household incomes and serve as a safety net against shocks, as mentioned in the earlier section.
Onboarding new partners to Thunes’ platform involved obtaining all the necessary regulatory approval, as well as technical integration between Thunes and these partners. As a network working across different countries with different capacities, Thunes had to come up with ways to overcome the specific challenges faced by its partners in the regulatory environment of each country. Additionally, in Myanmar, several financial service providers lacked the technical infrastructure to process remittance transactions automatically, which could increase operational risks and limit the volume of transactions processed.
Regulatory approvals at times resulted in the delayed onboarding of new partners for Thunes. This was encountered in three of the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar) due to that every new partnership between a bank and a remittance service provider must be approved directly by the Central Bank.
Furthermore, Thunes had to introduce measures to bridge the gap between international and domestic regulatory standards. For example, in Cambodia, Know-Your-Customer (KYC) regulations are more lenient than what is required for Thunes to comply with their own anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) standards. Thus, Thunes introduced a physical verification step in the KYC process with one of its receiving partners in Cambodia. In this system, agents would verify the recipient’s name, date of birth and ID number to check that it matches the record in Thunes’ system. This illustrates the need to adapt to local regulatory contexts through intermediary steps to reconcile the differences between international and domestic standards.
We have seen immense growth in transactions to Myanmar and Cambodia; this has been unexpected but highly encouraging. We are currently establishing partnerships in Lao PDR, but given the growth of the two mentioned markets, our focus is on developing these corridors further. As a company offering digital solutions, we are extremely happy to see that real-time connections make a difference and are driving exponential growth to our partner banks in Myanmar. It has been a great experience establishing so many bank partnerships, and the effort is proven to be worth it as we are committed to adding mobile wallets from Myanmar into our portfolio.
- Gabor Hava, VP of Partnerships in Asia Pacific, Thunes
Some of the key learnings from this case study are as follows:
- Build a wide network with multiple partners to drive future growth, given the different technical challenges in various countries.
- Tailor project implementation to the specific regulations of each country. Additional security measures may have to be introduced, and delays in the process should be anticipated.
- Coordination at the regional level is critical on regulatory issues such as cross-border remittances. UNCDF can leverage its regional partnerships to support advocacy at this level.
Thunes continues to expand its network of receiving and sending partners to further increase the volume of formal remittances received by CLMV countries. In light of their efforts, SHIFT ASEAN is providing further technical assistance to ensure that existing data can inform the company’s future expansion. SHIFT ASEAN is therefore supporting Thunes in analyzing supply-side datasets of remittance transactions to better understand the profiles of remittance senders and receivers.
The pandemic has threatened the jobs and livelihoods of migrant workers, who tend to be more vulnerable to loss of employment and wages during an economic crisis in a host country. In June 2020, UNCDF conducted a survey with remittance service providers in collaboration with the International Association of Money Transfer Networks (IAMTN) and found that 76 percent of participating providers identified limited access as a key difficulty for migrants to remit money. Scaling digital channels has emerged as a key strategy to overcome this challenge. In this regard, UNCDF will continue to work with remittance service providers, like Thunes, to support the needs of migrants amidst COVID-19, both as a response to the ongoing crisis but also as an important tool for economic recovery.
About the United Nations Capital Development Fund
The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs).
UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development.
UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.
UNCDF’s Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN programme is supported by the Australian Government.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.