Bank of New York Mellon Corp. is pressing its case for a bank-centric approach to offering remittance services to immigrants.
The company said Monday that the $8.5 billion-asset First Midwest Bank, a unit of First Midwest Bancorp Inc. in Itasca, Ill., would offer its Remit Worldwide service under the brand name Cash Worldwide.
Wendy Miller, director of remittance services in Bank of New York Mellon's treasury services group, said First Midwest is the fifth customer to offer Remit Worldwide, which lets U.S. banks provide low-cost, low-value money transfers to 16 key remittance markets through Bank of New York Mellon's international correspondents.
Miller said her company's service offers banks a way to participate in a market that is largely dominated by nonbank money transfer services, such as Western Union Co. of Denver and MoneyGram International Inc. of Minneapolis. She said banks handle only 15% of the nation's international remittance volume.
"Banks have really missed the opportunity to handle that transaction and have missed out on providing that service to the customer," Miller said. Such a service can generate revenue for the bank on its own, help bringing unbanked or underbanked customers into the financial mainstream, and can open a way for a bank to cross-sell its other products and services, she said.
Nonbank remittance providers are making some headway in offering their services through banks.
U.S. Bancorp announced in March that it would offer Western Union remittance services through its 2,791 branches beginning this month. Western Union announced in April that Fidelity National Information Services Inc. would offer its international transfer services to its 8,500 U.S. bank clients.
Miller said banks could benefit more by offering a bank-centric service such as Remit Worldwide. In offering a nonbank service, financial companies are "essentially renting space to" the remittance service providers, "and they have no control over the price," she said. "Why would I walk into a bank to do business with Western Union when I could go to the Western Union office on the corner?"
Miller acknowledged that her company does not have the global reach of Western Union, which says its remittance network has more than 375,000 agent locations. But the Bank of New York Mellon network does reach the key markets — including India, Mexico and the Philippines — to which the majority of U.S. immigrants want to send money, she said.
"We don't feel like we're at a competitive disadvantage because we're not in Madagascar or Nigeria," Miller said.
In the Philippines, for instance, remittances account for 15% of gross domestic product, more than foreign direct investment, Miller said. "The banks there are very sophisticated in how they deal with" remittances.
Jennifer Tescher, the director of the Center for Financial Services Innovation in Chicago, said Bank of New York Mellon probably would target an audience that is financially better off than that of Western Union, which can use its "unbelievable distribution network" to reach remote and economically deprived remittance receivers.
But for community banks that want to expand their services to immigrants, remittance alone probably will not be sufficient to win the business, Tescher said. "You need to have a much broader strategy that encompasses products, marketing, distribution, et cetera."
Bank of New York Mellon is looking at expansion into additional receiving markets, with a focus on Asia, Latin America and northern Africa, and is seeking to ramp up its network of sending banks outside the United States, such as Europe, Miller said. "They're facing the same situation as the U.S. With the exception of Spain, they're not sending."