Unlocking Corridors: How Singapore-Based InstaReM is Making a Killing in the Remittance Space
Transparency, competitive transaction fees, speedy transactions, and bulk payments — these are just some of the key ingredients to the fintech’s success
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
These days in the financial technology (fintech) sector, it’s easy to assume that any start-up making a play for financial services that eliminate the need for traditional middlemen would be powered by blockchain technology.
But fintech company InstaReM — a Singapore-headquartered start-up that provides fast, secure, and cost-effective digital cross-border money transfer services — is proving that having a good head for compliance, as well as making migraine-inducing banking processes more efficient via a local platform, is just as effective in trimming remittance transaction fees down to 0.25% to 0.5%, and increasing processing speed to 24 hours (in Asia) compared to the average two- to four-day transfer by banks.
For the last six months, the World Bank has consistently ranked InstaReM as one of the most competitive remittance platforms across several Asian corridors that include Australia to India, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam; and Singapore to Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.
The last two years have seen massive capital inflow for the company, with InstaReM raising $5 million in its Series A round in 2016 led by Vertex Ventures, and raising recently this July another $13 million Series B funding led by GSR Ventures.
What is it doing differently? Co-founder and CEO Prajit Nanu, who hails from Mumbai, reveals these key strategies:
1. Pumping up the volume
According to Nanu, InstaReM’s business caters to two kinds of customers: retail customers or individuals who transfer money from one country to another, and businesses that range from small- and mid-sized companies to corporates, enterprises and fintech start-ups who send low-value, high-volume payments.
Taking care of their corporate clients, which comprise 60% of InstaReM’s transactions, affords them the best remittance rates they can then trickle down to their retail customers. Explains Nanu, “We offer tailored solutions to businesses, from digital payments to compliance requirements. These are the clients who would be doing significant volume, [such that] even in a small market like Malaysia we would do 50,000 payments and we’d go to a bank and say, hey, we have 50,000 transactions — what’s the best price you can give?”
It’s a strategy that clearly pays off as InstaReM now processes over 150,000 transactions per month, with transfers averaging $1,800.
2. ‘Unconventional’ hiring
InstaReM started in January 2014 with a lean team of four. Today, the remittance leader is growing steadily with 80 employees now deployed across five global offices. Throughout the course of their development, Nanu realized that their hiring process differentiates them from most tech start-ups whose workforce largely comprise millennials.
“Because of the business that we are in, we tend to hire people with significant experience and expertise. For example, our CFO is 50 years old and he has extensive background in the global risk business. Another guy used to be CFO of a listed firm before joining, and my co-founder Mike has been in FX compliance all his life, and if you want to do something in FX, compliance is one of the most important things,” shares the 35-year-old Nanu.
3. Choosing the right investors
There’s not a shortage of start-ups who end up in a bad situation by falling into bed with shady investors offering the highest valuations. “Very young start-ups, especially, tend to choose extremely wrong investors — and a bad investor is really bad for your business and can even get you to fold a business,” says Nanu.
As a founder, his personal philosophy when it comes to choosing the right investor pretty much follows the same principles as choosing a life partner: date first before you get hitched. “If you choose someone whom you cannot connect with and don’t have access to during important events, and you just do not have that close a relationship, then you’re going to spend the rest of your life miserable,” he says. It’s pretty much the same picture as having an investor who may throw a lot of money at you but doesn’t bring anything else to the table.
When it comes to raising funding, Nanu shares that he wants to meet people who will add a lot of strategic value to the company. “Because otherwise the investment money is basically just cash, and not relationships,” he says, adding, “What we’ve learned from our existing investors is that if you have great relationships, beyond injecting capital, you get access to a network of customers, platforms, and expertise — and that can actually make you scale even faster.”