A new partnership between the World Council of Credit Unions and Boom Financial, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that provides mobile banking and money transfer services to immigrant and unbanked families, could pump new life into credit unions in developing countries.
Founded four years ago, Boom gives underbanked and unbanked consumers the ability to activate a Boom bank account, receive a prepaid card and transfer money to anyone in the world via a mobile transaction. Through the partnership–which the two parties announced on Sep. 11–money transfer recipients will get messages on their mobile devices directing them to a nearby credit union branch, where they can access the money. Once they’ve visited a branch, the credit unions will have the opportunity to market other products and services to their new, potential members.
The alliance, which represents Boom’s first step into the credit union industry, originated at a recent conference where leaders from WOCCU and Boom met and discovered they had very similar philosophies–to provide secure financial services to unbanked and underbanked populations through the use of mobile technology, explained Pete Kelly, Boom’s vice president of business development, and Saul Wolf, WOCCU’s manager of remittance services.
“The reason why we were interested in Boom is because what works for the banked doesn’t work for the unbanked, and Boom understands this,” Wolf said. “So many companies get it wrong by looking at the technology and saying that if they build it, they will come, but that isn’t the case for our service areas. And it’s not just about money transfers. We’re both interested in greater financial inclusion for these populations.”
Kelly said Boom chose to zero in on mobile banking services because the company found that the majority of U.S. immigrants–the company’s target population–regularly use mobile devices that they’ve brought to the U.S. from their native countries. He said this population often deals with cash and utilizes alternative banking services. And mobile technology addresses their need to send money to loved ones living in their native countries. The company has also noticed, Kelly said, that those who have discovered the benefits of mobile banking via Boom’s services typically desire services from a traditional financial institution.
“We live in a cash economy, but challenges exist due to proximity, and that’s where mobile comes into play,” Kelly said. “Boom can be considered the PayPal for everyone else. Much of the global population is unbanked, but we find that our customers do want to be banked.”
Boom allows customers to open an account in the U.S. or Mexico, and while all customers can complete transfers and use their Boom prepaid cards to withdraw cash at ATMs, only U.S. customers can load cash onto their prepaid cards and use them to shop at participating stores. Mexico customers have the option of purchasing items at participating stores with funds acquired through a Boom money transfer and can receive cash back. The company’s money transfer services are free of charge, but it does charge customers an annual membership fee of $25 and fees of $2 to $3 to load or withdraw money with a prepaid card. Boom’s mobile services can be accessed from older mobile phone models, not just smartphones, Kelly pointed out.
As a result of the partnership, the 51,000 credit unions that serve 196 million people around the world and are served by WOCCU will have the opportunity to increase membership, assets and loan volume without adding more branches, Wolf said.
Another goal WOCCU and Boom hope to reach is to provide unbanked and underbanked populations with comprehensive financial services that they may not otherwise receive. Wolf said while some mobile banking service companies focus solely on transfers and payments, Boom has its hand in the concepts of mobile accounts, saving and lending.
“We’re trying to provide dignity to the little person,” Wolf said. “We want the services to be convenient, provide meaningful access and allow people to achieve their dreams.”
Wolf added that the partnership’s benefits align with WOCCU’s objective of giving a strong voice to credit unions in developing countries.
“We want credit unions in the developing world to have a seat at the table in the shaping of new products and services, and we want to provide people who are unbanked with dignity, safety and convenience,” Wolf said. “Credit unions are great promoters of those values.”
For Boom, the partnership equals a connection to the nearly 200 million people serviced by WOCCU.
“WOCCU allows us to expand faster and serve a more relevant audience in a safe manner,” Kelly said. “It’s a strong technology and compliance partner.”