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The cost of sending money home to neighbouring countries

By Athenkosi Sawutana

Transferring money home within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) provides vital financial support for many households in neighbouring countries.

According to Andrew Stewart, a managing director for Middle East and Africa at WorldRemit, South Africa sent over $2,5 billion in international remittances in 2018.  Most of the remittances went to neighbouring countries, such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho.

“These remittances account for a large proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, after foreign direct investment, are the largest source of foreign currency for countries in the region,” says Stewart.

But these remittances come at a cost. This week Justmoney interviewed five immigrants who send money home to their loved ones, and found out how affordable their preferred methods are. 

“Nearly 70% of remittances from South Africa are sent through informal channels such as unregistered courier services and buses crossing the border,” says Stewart.

He says that not only are these methods often costly and insecure, but they can take a while to reach people who urgently need funds.

While 90% of Justmoney’s interviewees mentioned couriers and money transfer agents, the technologically advanced money transfer services were the preferred methods.

“I use Mukuru. It’s easier for my relatives who live in the rural areas to collect the money,” says George Munjanja, a street vendor from Zimbabwe.

Mukuru is a remittance company that provides money transfer service.

Another alternative for him is to find a bus driver to Harare and ask him to give the money to his family. However, the 39-year-old finds this inconvenient for his family as the bus only stops at major cities.

“If I send the money by bus, my mother or my sister has to travel to Harare to get the money, which I find wasteful,” says Munjanja.

According to Munjanja, the bus drivers charge the immigrants 10% of the amount they send home.

Nonetheless, Munjanja found that the bus was easier to use because no documents were required.  

Interviewees also mentioned that there are other methods available, but some agents cheat them and never deliver on their promises.

“The agent would tell you that they are going to charge you 5%, but later you find that they’ve charged you more,” says Munjanja.

Even though Mukuru was the preferred method by 90% of our interviewees, banks were also hailed as the most reliable method of sending money.

“I can’t imagine using any other method. My bank charges me less than 10% for my transactions,” says George Namba, a 50-year-old businessman from Mozambique.

Below are some of the popular money transfer services available in South Africa for immigrants.

 

Transfer Services

Western Union

Mukuru

WorldRemit

Fees

Pricing for transfers is based on a tiered structure. The fee is determined based on the amount transferred.

10% of the transferred amount.

R10 - R3,000 per transaction.

Convenience

The service can be used by all segments of the population as one does not require a bank account to send or receive money. However, having a bank account is an added advantage when using the service as it affords customers access to physical and digital channels.

You can create and manage your orders via WhatsApp – at no additional cost. You can also make your payments through the app, in retail stores, and online.

100% digital on the sending side so there's no need to travel to send money. You can easily use the track your transfer feature to follow your money’s journey at every step, or to call or email the customer service team.

Speed

Transfers are near instant. The beneficiary can fetch their money at any participating agent within minutes, subject to regulatory checks and time zone.

Recipients receive notification as soon as the money is transferred.

Transactions are authorised in 10 minutes or less. You even get instant notifications on the status of your WorldRemit transactions via WhatsApp – as well as getting SMS and email messages.

 

Safety

All person-to-person transfers are safe and effortless.

Operators will manage the account for you, amending the details of your orders as and when you wish to place them.

Your personal details will not be passed on to any third parties.

All personal data is encrypted and secured. Data is protected by industry leading technology such as Microsoft and Amazon's security protocols.

Stewart notes that sending remittances through formal routes in the SADC region is still expensive because the market has long been dominated by a small group of authorised dealers, banks, and money transfer operators that have significant pricing power.

But the use of mobile phones is changing the game.

“In economies like Zimbabwe and Swaziland – where access to mobile phones exceed 85% – there are new opportunities for digital providers to lower the cost per transaction, particularly for low-value remittances,” says Stewart.

He adds that diversifying the variety of pay-out options can help reduce the cost of sending money for consumers.

Remittances play an important role in improving the lives of the poor and their families. Keeping their costs low is as important as ensuring that that there are no difficulties encountered when sending the money.

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