Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Remittances To Developing Countries To Reach $406 Billion In 2012

Remittances to developing countries will surpass $400 billion in 2012, according to the World Bank, and this has become an important source of capital and foreign exchange inflows for these countries.

Officially recorded remittances to developing countries are expected to reach $406 billion in 2012, up by 6.5 percent from $381 billion in 2011. The World Bank estimates that the true size of remittance flows, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is significantly larger.Compared with private capital flows, remittance flows have shown remarkable resilience since the global financial crisis, registering only a modest fall in 2009, followed by a rapid recovery.

The size of remittance flows to developing countries is now more than three times that of official development assistance.

The top recipients of remittances in 2012 are India ($70bn), China ($66bn), the Philippines ($24bn), Mexico ($24bn), and Nigeria ($21bn).

Others are Egypt ($18bn), Pakistan ($14bn), Bangladesh ($14bn), Vietnam ($9bn), and Lebanon ($7bn).

For Nigeria the size of its 2012 remittance inflow, amounts to about 7.7 percent of 2012 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and nearly 50 percent of CBN foreign exchange reserves.

The cost of sending remittance is a key driver of remittance flows, World Bank research shows.

Consequently, reducing remittance cost has been identified as a key policy objective to facilitate these flows.

In 2008, the G8 (and later in 2011 the G20) countries committed to reduce the global average remittance cost by 5 percentage points in five years.

The unweighted average remittance cost, based on World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide (RPW) database, for the top 20 largest bilateral remittance corridors has declined from 8.6 percent in 2008 to about 7.5 percent in the third quarter of 2012.

The average remittance cost, weighted by the size of the bilateral remittance flow, reveals a similar story.

The global average remittance price (i.e., average based on all countries for which price data is available) has declined over the same period from 9.81 percent in 2008 to 8.96 percent in the third quarter of 2012.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region to send remittance to, with a transfer costing (in third quarter of 2012) about 12.4 percent of the amount transferred.

This is almost twice the corresponding figure of 6.5 percent for South Asia.

The promise of mobile remittances has however yet to be fulfilled. The World Bank says that although channeling international remittances through mobile phones has the promise of expanding access and lowering costs, this service has yet to take off in a substantial way.

The use of mobile phones has skyrocketed worldwide from 0.7 billion in 2000 to 6.0 billion in 2011, of which 4.6 billion are being used in developing countries.

Mobile phones have also been used to facilitate international remittances.

Services such as Mobile cash-out, allow households to receive money in accounts linked to their mobile phones (mobile wallet) and subsequently use it to conduct mobile transactions or cash-out the money at an agent.

Mobile cash-in services allow migrants to send money from their mobile wallet. Other branchless cash-out services allow migrants to send money to a cash card held by recipients, who can then withdraw funds at ATMs or make purchases with the card.

As of early-2012, only 20 percent of 130 mobile banking operators worldwide offered international remittance services.

Major players in this market include G-Cash and Smart in the Philippines, M-PESA in Kenya and Tanzania, and Digicel in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.

Traditional money transfer operators, such as Western Union and Moneygram, have also partnered with some of these providers to offer international remittance services via mobile phones.

Sadly, Nigeria is not a major player in this category.

Cross-border mobile remittances have not taken off due to a variety of regulatory and operational challenges.

Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT) and “know-your-client” requirements also exacerbate the regulatory hurdle for mobile money operators that raise cost and operational burden.

Mobile remittances fall in the regulatory void between financial and telecom regulations, a reality which creates regulatory uncertainty for potential market entrants.

Many central banks do not allow non-bank entities to conduct cash-in and cash-out services.

Mobile remittances will not take off until central banks and telecom authorities come together to craft rules that facilitate branchless banking.

International remittances via mobile phones will also not take off until there is an ecosystem of domestic services built around mobile payments.

The World Bank says Kenya and the Philippines are ahead of the curve in fostering an ecosystem of mobile payment services, while most other countries are much further behind at this point.

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