Seattle startup Remitly sees growth as COVID-19 crisis accelerates shift to digital remittances

Seattle startup Remitly sees growth as COVID-19 crisis accelerates shift to digital remittances

The Remitly team. (Remitly Photo)

Many tech startups are laying off employees and facing steep revenue declines due to the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s not the case for Remitly, a Seattle company that helps people send money overseas. The global pandemic is accelerating the shift to digital remittances, said Remitly CEO Matt Oppenheimer.

Remitly’s mobile technology lets people send and receive money across borders, including immigrants in the U.S. and U.K. who support families back home in countries such as the Philippines, India, El Salvador, and others.

The service eliminates forms, codes, agents, and other fees typically associated with the international money transfer process. Remitly operates in an extremely hot sector of the financial tech market and is one of Seattle’s most valuable startups, on the cusp of joining an elite group of local “unicorn” companies.

The company’s customer growth was up 100% from February to March, and it saw a 40% growth in transaction volume.

Oppenheimer said there are several factors driving the increased activity. Customers still need to send money overseas — perhaps even more so during the pandemic — but traditional remittance solutions such as brick-and-mortar providers are closed. There are also fears about leaving the home, or that COVID-19 can spread through the exchange of physical currency (there is little evidence of this).

As a result, Remitly is seeing more people flock to its platform.

“In this difficult environment that we are all living in, customers still view remittances as an essential service, and have to determine the best and safest way to get that money back to their loved ones,” Oppenheimer said.

Speaking at a Startup Grind Seattle event last week, Oppenheimer said the 9-year-old company’s mission has never been more clear.

Immigrant communities are likely to be “among the hardest hit” by the pandemic, The Washington Post reported.  The $2.2 trillion stimulus package won’t help millions of working undocumented immigrants who pay taxes, The Associated Press reported.

“Our customers are true heroes who continue to prioritize the well-being of their loved ones and we are committed to providing them with an easy way to send money home safely and reliably,” Oppenheimer said.

Remittances to low-and-middle-income countries reached a record $529 billion in 2018, according to The World Bank, up 9.6 percent year-over-year. That number was expected to reach $551 billion in 2019, and $597 billion in 2021.

Remitly competes with WorldRemit, TransferWise, and other similar tech companies aiming to grab market share from industry incumbents such as Western Union or MoneyGram.

Founded in 2011 as Beamit Mobile, Remitly landed a $220 million cash infusion last year. In February it expanded beyond remittances for the first time and launched a new banking service designed specifically for immigrants. The company, ranked No. 3 on the GeekWire 200 list of top Pacific Northwest tech startups, has more than 1,000 employees across its Seattle HQ and six other offices in Spokane, Wash., London, Dublin, Krakow, Manila, and Managua.

Remitly investors include Barclays, Bezos Expeditions, Bridge Bank, DN Capital, Echelon Capital, Founders’ Co-Op, Generation Investment Management, Goldman Sachs, QED Investors, PayU, Silicon Valley Bank, Stripes, Threshold Ventures, Tomorrow Ventures, and Trilogy Equity Partners, among others.

Oppenheimer, who helped come up with the idea for Remitly while working for Barclays Bank in Kenya, said the company has made several internal changes to adapt to the new work-from-home mandates. Leaders are organizing weekly company-wide meetings, regular Q&A sessions, virtual scavenger hunts, team game nights, virtual coffees, and also sharing documents with self-care recommendations.

“Realizing this situation has individual implications for everyone, all of whom are responding to this crisis differently, I’m trying to be my authentic self and empathic as I lead the team,” Oppenheimer said in a recent GeekWire roundup of leadership advice. “We have to take care of ourselves and each other, and each person deserves room to process this in their own way. My entire team has stepped up its communications, and I’m personally committed to keeping a very open dialogue with our global team.”




Source: GeekWire Startup

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