Ahmed Elfatairy / EMIRATES BUSINESS
How do you evaluate the work of UAE Exchange in the local market? Whatis your growth rate?
UAE Exchange is a leading remittance brand. In the UAE it enjoys about 55 to 60% market share. In 2015, we transferred US$13.40 billion from the UAE, registering a growth of 6.55% compared to 2014.
We have close to 150 branches in the UAE, of which 16 are in Dubai Metro. UAE Exchange is the first remittance brand to establish itself in the Dubai Metro network. We recently earned the naming rights from Dubai RTA and branded Jebel Ali Metro Station as UAE Exchange Metro Station, again a first among remittance brands.
Meanwhile, globally, we transferred around US$27.56 billion, which again is a growth of 6% compared to 2014. We have a presence in 31 countries with close to 800 branches, the largest in the class.
We serve over 13.2 million customers worldwide and have 6% share in global remittance volume.
What are the places that capture your attention in terms of expansion? Is there an intention to open new branches?
Africa and South Asia are some of the regions, where we plan to expand our physical presence.
We are also keen on increasing our online money transfer operations, which is currently active in 10 countries.
UAE Exchange is among the few brands which focuses on opening outlets in the remittance receiving markets too for the convenience of the beneficiaries. Hence we have over 400 branches in India, the largest receiver of remittances, 24 branches in Morocco etc. In the GCC, we have close to 250 branches.
We are constantly on the look for strategic locations to expand our branch network. In 2016, we have plans to open 10 new branches across the UAE. Additionally we will also introduce self-serving electronic transaction kiosk and online money transfer facility.
What about the company’s expansion in the countries with big Money Transfer possibilities such as the ME, and GCC countries?
In the GCC, we have a strong presence with close to 250 branches (Apart from the UAE, we have 13 branches in Bahrain; 26 in Kuwait; 49 in Oman and nine in Qatar). We have plans to aggressively expand in each of the above mentioned markets.
The only country in the GCC where we are yet to start operations is the KSA, the largest expatriate market in the Middle East. We are engaging closely with the regulator there and hope to establish our presence there too.
What technological developments are you making now?
We understand that digital is the future. So we have a strong strategy in place for our journey towards complete digitalisation. Technology is the only tool to secure transactions, enhance customer experience, earn the trust of regulators and keep ahead of the competition. So we have invested heavily in strengthening our various internal processes and customer experience. We have partnered with technology giants like SAP for CRM and Finance; Nice Actimize for Compliance; and SunGard for Treasury automation. Alongside, our in-house technology team has developed self-serving transaction kiosks, online money transfer portal and more, securing customers’ money and identity, thus bolstering their trust.
What about the order of UAE Exchange in terms of size and number of branches at the UAE level?
UAE Exchange is among the leading remittance brands in the UAE. The UAE is one of the most mature, highly competitive and most regulated remittance markets. We have a strong presence in the country with close to 150 branches, of which 16 are in Dubai Metro. UAE Exchange is the first remittance brand to establish itself in the Dubai Metro network. We recently earned the naming rights from Dubai RTA and branded Jebel Ali Metro Station as UAE Exchange Metro Station, again a first among remittance brands.
What are the most prominent destinations in receiving remittances from the UAE?
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Jordan are among the top destinations in receiving remittances from the UAE, which is the sixth largest source of remittances in the world.
Indian is the highest remittance receiving market in the world. The UAE to India corridor have overtaken the traditionally strong USA to India corridor in terms of volume of remittances transferred. UAE Exchange manages 11% of the remittance flow to India.
Sector of Money transfer has witnessed a significant rise in terms of the number of companies operating in the country. Do you think market is heading towards saturation?
The UAE is one of the most mature, competitive and well regulated remittance markets. Conducive business environment in the country enabled more players in the remittance segment, increasing competition, improving quality of service and reducing costs.
UAE has a strong association of remittance service providers called FERG (Foreign Exchange and Remittance Group), which intends to engage with regulators and its members to help strengthen the high risk prone financial system of the country.
How do you deal with suspicious transactions as an exchange company?
We have processes in place to identify suspicious transactions across our branches. Our frontline staff members are thoroughly trained in aspects related to money laundering and terrorism financing. Regular training sessions are conducted to update them with the latest and best practices in compliance and how to deal with emergencies.
We have a well-defined compliance structure with a dedicated Chief Compliance Officer in each of the countries, where we have operations. They engage with the respective regulatory body and ensure that we are in alignment with all the regulations at all points in time. We have a strong global compliance policy in place. Additionally we align to the local regulations in each of the markets. We also partnered with NICE Actimize, experts in compliance technology, to strengthen our compliance processes.
Currently we deal with 68 regulators and with each one of them we have a strong relationship.
What is the impact of tourism and festivals and exhibitions on the growth of bank transfers in the UAE?
Dubai Shopping Festival is one of the major attractions for people from across countries. Millions fly in to shop during this grand festival. The UAE Government has been for some time focusing on various other means to increase revenue and reduce the dependency on the oil industry. Hence tourism sector received a boost followed by hospitality, real estate, infrastructure etc. Major projects like Dubai Canal, Dubai Theme Parks, Abu Dhabi Midfield Airport etc., are underway. These would transform UAE into a destination beyond just a shopping hub.
All these aspects, along with fall in global currencies, have impacted tourism with more UAE residents going on vacations, especially to Europe. All these have seen a big movement in foreign currencies and exchange houses are leading from the front to provide the best service to the increasing tourists.
What are the programmes that characterize the UAE Exchange than any other exchange centers?
UAE Exchange offers widest range of services under a single roof including money transfers, foreign exchange, bill payments, credit card payments, utility bills, insurance premium, school fee and more. We have one of the largest networks with close to 150 outlets spread across the country including the remotest of areas. We offer a WPS-compliant payroll solution called Smart Pay. Our principal membership with MasterCard empowers Smart Pay users with an electronic payroll card for salary withdrawal from any MasterCard ATM or purchases at approved merchant locations.
We also bring a MasterCard powered prepaid travel card, Gocash. Travellers from the UAE can load up to six currencies in a single card. Its exchange rate lock facility enables them to save money from currency fluctuations, giving them peace of mind during travel.
UAE Exchange is a pioneer in offering promotions with unique prizes to customers. Our recent promotion offered US Dollars in prize, the first time ever among promotions offered by an exchange house. Other than that we have traditionally popular promotions like Money Majlis and various other community-specific offerings that add immense value to customers. Additionally we also offer exciting engagement initiatives, contests and promotions in our strong online space.
More than what we do, it is how we do that makes all the difference. It is our approach to doing things that enables UAE Exchange to stand out in this highly competitive space.
What is the growth rate of remittances abroad in 2015?
From the UAE alone, our remittance volumes have grown by around 6.55% in 2015, while globally our remittances have experienced a growth of 6%.
Does the drop in oil prices have any impact on the process of money transfers? And why?
GCC economies are pre-dominantly dependent on oil. So if lower oil prices persist for a long time, it could impact the remittance flow eventually. Hence caution in approach is essential without disowning optimism.Increasingly GCC economies are trying to reduce this dependency and exploring alternative sources of wealth creation. The process has been going on since the last decade. They are diversifying well across various verticals, which is a positive way of finding a solution and pumping money into the economy.
Internal oil subsidies are reduced across the GCC improving savings, which would be diverted to sustainable projects.Major initiatives like Expo2020, Football World Cup in Qatar and other major infrastructural projects are a result of this new approach. Also GCC has been doing well in the segments of finance, tourism, trade, maritime etc. Hence remittance as such has not yet been impacted adversely. For the time being caution and optimism are essential to move forward. Meanwhile the UAE is not dependent only on oil revenue. It would add new economic sectors, enhance the existing ones, and create a balanced and sustainable national economy.
The volatility of global currencies also did not impact the remittances from the UAE. This was because AED was pegged to USD and hence the fluctuations did not impact its value, which worked in the benefit of expatriates in the UAE, which kept the remittance flow high even while major remittance corridors dwindled in 2015.