Selma Ribica on tackling the financial exclusion of migrants across Europe

Phil Siarri talks to Selma Ribica, director at Lebara Financial Services, where she is in charge of building the financial services vertical for parent company Lebara, a leading mobile virtual network operator for immigrants across nine European markets.

Hi Selma, nice to connect with you. Can you tell us a little about your professional background and what led you to join Lebara?

After graduating from Insead in 2011, I joined M-Pesa, the most successful mobile money service in the world, which is used by over 25 million people (Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Egypt, India, Romania, Albania, Mozambique, Lesotho and Ghana). M-Pesa provides basic financial services to those who would otherwise remain excluded. During my time in M-Pesa, I worked on launching M-Pesa in new markets and building new products, expanding the way people can use it. I built the first mobile-to-mobile international corridor in East Africa, enabling people to send money from Kenya to Tanzania by phone, halving the cost of remittances between two countries and reducing the informal remittance flows. Later on, I closed partnerships with global remittance players and MTN Money in Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, and hopefully this will be also be live in DRC, Mozambique and Lesotho.

In August 2015, I joined Lebara with an ambition to build a version of M-Pesa for migrants in developed markets, across Lebara’s European footprint. Lebara is traditionally a telecom player who disrupted the price of international calling 10 years ago, and acquired a large market share of the migrants market in the UK, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Denmark.

Aside from international calling, migrants have many unmet financial needs and limited access to certain financial products. I joined to build a fintech vertical within the company, and since then we built and launched our first financial product: a transparent and affordable money transfer service.

We are a diverse team of talented people from many countries: India, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bosnia, Lithuania, the UK, and a very agile team of developers based in Ukraine. Being immigrants ourselves, we’re sensitive to the needs of our customers and passionate about building the answer to the financial exclusion of migrants across Europe. So far, it’s been an exciting and fast-growth journey.

Your customer base is very much affected by currency fluctuations. How is your product offering addressing this?

We decided to go beyond competing only on cost, and developed a service that overcomes two of the most significant pain points people feel when needing to send money abroad regularly: the hassle of being sure you’ve found a good rate relative to what’s available at the time, and dealing with constantly fluctuating international exchange rates — a particular challenge in the current political climate; Brexit, Trump administration, and political statements on Twitter can cause significant currency fluctuations. On our blog, we present analysis of how the savings of an Indian migrant might have been affected by currency fluctuation in the period between March 2014 and March 2017, and the drop is as high as 41%!

Our key feature ‘Like It, Lock It’, took the “forward fx contract” concept, which is usually available to business and high net worth individuals, and brought it to the mass migrant market by allowing our customers to lock the fx rate they see for up to 30 days, and on values as small as £100.

It has been a good way to set out our stall to our customers, offering them an innovative, yet easy-to-use solution better than anything currently available.

What other barriers do immigrant communities face when it comes to access to financial services?

Access to loans or credit cards is another example. For a while, up to 2–3 years, migrants’ access to loans is limited until one builds a credit profile, and money transfer is often expensive using traditional players such as banks and brick-and-mortar money transfer operators. We seek to fill that gap in the market, and by using smart technology to manage risk, to offer more accessible financial services designed for migrants’ and expats’ needs.

Read the rest of the interview on BankNXT

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