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International Payments Trend: Global Remittances Rebound

By Karen Lynch

Worldwide, the flow of remittances is expected to increase 3.9 percent in 2017, resuming growth after two years of decline, according to a report issued in October 2017 by the World Bank. The report details patterns of remittances, which are international payments from migrants to recipients in their home country, as well as trends in the fees paid for them and in the regulations influencing related payment services.1

The 2017 rebound to $596 billion follows decreases of 1.4 percent in 2016 and 2.6 percent in 2015, the report said. Beyond this year, growth is also projected in 2018, at 3.4 percent. Strengthening economies in the European Union, Russia, and the United States are cited as driving the growth.2

 

The Flow of International Payments

 

The countries receiving the most remittances are India ($65 billion), China ($63 billion), the Philippines ($33 billion), Mexico ($31 billion), and Nigeria ($22 billion). Viewed as a percent of GDP, the top five receivers of these international payments are the Kyrgyz Republic (37.1 percent), Haiti (31.2 percent), Tajikistan (28 percent), Nepal (27.2 percent), and Liberia (25.9 percent).3

 

Growth rates, by region, are: Sub-Saharan Africa (10 percent), Europe and Central Asia (8.6 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (6.9 percent), and other world regions (1 to 5 percent). Overall, remittance inflows to developing countries are more than three times official development aid and larger than foreign direct investment inflows (excluding China).4

 

The countries sending the most remittances are harder to quantify, since some high-income countries that are important migrant destinations do not report outflows of these international payments.5 However, a 2016 World Bank report listed the top five as, in order, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Switzerland, and Germany.6

 

Payment Services Fees

 

Fees for remittances are relatively unchanged in 2017, the report said. The global average cost of sending $200 is 7.2 percent. Fees vary between and among countries and regions. "Remittance costs across many African corridors and small islands in the Pacific remain above 10 percent, because of the low volumes of formal flows, inadequate penetration of new technologies, and lack of a competitive market environment," the report said.7

 

Also keeping fees at the current level are regulatory pressures on banks and payment services companies, which are required to monitor and report suspected use of their networks for money laundering and terrorist financing, the report said. Banks have been "de-risking" their operations by reducing their correspondent banking relationships and their business with payment services companies. Banks have also pointed to the cost of complying with varying rules in multiple jurisdictions, including the expense of upgrading systems, software, and procedures for monitoring. Earlier this year, the International Association of Money Transfer Networks, a trade group of payment services providers, proposed a global anti-money laundering protocol to address the issue.8

 

International Payments Technology

 

Technology is seen as a means of driving down remittance costs and fees, while improving payment services. Given high global smartphone penetration, for instance, regional interoperability projects are being discussed to create payment systems connecting all mobile money services and banks across a number of countries, according to the GSM Association, a global mobile communications industry group. "Mobile money providers have demonstrated a strong appetite for cross-border interoperability, with 46 remittance corridors now active. These corridors continue to drive the price of sending remittances down, providing users increasingly competitive options for sending money internationally," the group said.9

 

Furthermore, "the remittance industry needs to embrace technology and take advantage of developments which can enhance their services, such as automated identification, real-time transaction scanning, better foreign exchange management, and real-time cross-border settlements," according to a report from Devex, a media outlet for the global development community.10 Technology has enabled many companies to interface with customers online. At least one company is using the blockchain open ledger technology to speed transactions. Digitally advanced companies are competing on the fees and usability of their payment services, "capitalizing on the way people's expectations have changed with the advent of digital and mobile channels," according to a report from Business Insider.2

 

The

Takeaway:

After two years of decline, the global flow of remittances is expected to increase this year, even as related payment services fees remain stable. Global compliance requirements have acted as a brake on growth of these international payments, according to a World Bank report, while technological development is spurring growth. 2018 is also expected to be a year of growth.

Karen Lynch - The Author

The Author

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology and policy in New York, Paris and Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. Karen also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners.

Sources

1. “Migration and Development Brief 28,” World Bank; http://www.knomad.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/Migration%20and%20Development%20Brief%2028.pdf
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid. 4. Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, World Bank; https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23743/9781464803192.pdf
5. “Migration and Development Brief 28,” World Bank; http://www.knomad.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/Migration%20and%20Development%20Brief%2028.pdf
6. Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, World Bank; https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23743/9781464803192.pdf
7. Ibid.
8. “IAMTN Proposes New industry-wide Standards to Tackle De-risking,” International Association of Money Transfer Networks; http://iamtn.blogspot.co.uk/
9. State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money, GSM Association; https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/GSMA_State-of-the-Industry-Report-on-Mobile-Money_2016-1.pdf
10. “5 Trends Affecting the Remittance Industry,” Devex; https://www.devex.com/news/5-trends-affecting-the-remittance-industry-89275
11. “The Digital Remittance Report: The new platforms disrupting a $600 billion industry,” Business Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/digital-first-startups-are-challenging-legacy-remittance-firms-2015-8

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