Helping overseas Filipinos manage their finances
MANILA, Philippines – Every year, the amount of remittances pouring into the Philippines is boasted about in national headlines. The reader is supposed to take this figure as a sign of the country’s economic health. But what if much of this money is being squandered away in unplanned or frivolous expenses?
It would be more interesting to see though how much of the yearly remittances is being put to good use. How many businesses do they launch or investments do they create? Or even on a more basic level – how often are these remittances applied to the payment of pressing expenses like home mortgages or other bills?
There are startups trying to improve the financial control that overseas Filipinos have over their money. One such company is Qwikwire.
The Qwikwire team is creating a platform that allows Filipinos living or working abroad to pay their bills online – including those from Meralco, Manila Water, Social Security System, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, PhilHealth, and more.
To be officially launched in June 2015, Qwikwire is currently on a soft launch and can now accept payment for real estate bills.
Ray Refundo, the founder and CEO of Qwikwire, believes that this platform gives Filipinos some much needed oversight. “Overseas Filipinos would like to have some control over their families’ expenses back home and being able to pay your bills directly from abroad empowers you to do that,” Refundo said.
Refundo feels that the competitors of Qwikwire are the traditional money-transfer companies. What is supposed to differentiate Qwikwire from those competitors again goes back to the idea of control.
Rather than send money and simply let their families decide how to spend it, as would happen through a money-transfer company, the Qwikwire platform allows overseas Filipinos to decide exactly how the money should be spent. The ability to make these decisions, even while stationed overseas, is supposed to give them a much needed sense of comfort.
Pivoting to perfection
Qwikwire – in its current incarnation – is not Refundo’s first foray into the world of financial technology (fintech). Ten years ago, he started an online remittance business, Moneytran, which eventually failed.
Qwikwire itself was initially launched more than a year ago as a payroll payments service for Filipino freelancers. Refundo said that the team had to eventually pivot or change business models into its new one of bills payment due to lack of demand.
No freelancers wanted to test out their service because they were new and unproven. Along those same lines, no freelancing marketplace was willing to partner with them, which would have perhaps given them more credibility to freelancers.
Reflecting on the experience, Refundo said, “the only advice I can give is that entrepreneurs should try to find a product-market fit before spending a lot of time and resources on any product,” he said, and shared that the Qwikwire team wasted more than a year because no one wanted the original product it built.
Becoming a leader
Actions speak louder than words, and the fact that Refundo and the Qwikwire team are still committed to making a splash in the world of Philippine fintech shows how much opportunity there is in the space.
There are fintech firms for just about every sector and niche in the Philippines. There are companies like PayrollHero and Salarium that provide business-to-business solutions; companies that deal with the exchange of cryptocurrency like Satoshi Citadel Industries and Coins.ph; and companies that provide payment solutions and gateways like VMoney and Dragonpay.
In the overall fintech market, the niche that Qwikwire wants to carve out in online bills payment may seem comparatively small. Yet even this niche represents a significant opportunity. “I believe it’s a big enough market to grow within,” Refundo said.
This idea will hold especially true if the Qwikwire team eventually achieves its goal of becoming the leader in international bills payments.
For now, the Qwikwire team is taking steps to ensure that their official launch in June will be met with early success. Understanding the adage that “money talks,” Qwikwire is offering a monetary incentive to get early adopters to register with their platform now. Every person that signs up gets a $20 credit to their account that they can use for their transaction fees in the future.
Such offers fit into Qwikwire’s broader strategy of reaching out to overseas Filipinos where they likely are to be the most: online. Away from their friends and family back home in the Philippines, they will spend more time on the Internet during their free time, particularly social media outlets like Facebook.
Yet no matter where the Qwikwire team reaches out to them in the digital world, they will emphasize the value proposition that differentiates their bills payment platform from money-transfer services.
“Having some control over their family’s finances gives them, the breadwinners, a sense of security,” Refundo said.
Rappler will be hosting a Twitter conversation on #RemitSmarter. Join us on Friday, March 20, from 8 pm to 10 pm (Manila time) and learn more about managing your remittances better. – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz is also the chief content officer at ZipMatch, a tech company backed by Ideaspace Foundation, Hatchd Digital, IMJ Investment Partners, and 500 Startups. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz