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Expanding the financial options of immigrant money senders


  • Current Status: Our development team has produced a proof-of-concept price comparison website, mobile site, and text message app to compare prices of international money transfers. We are now testing these apps, optimizing them, cleaning up the design, and synching the different channels in preparation for focus groups and user testing in June. The next major event is the Remás Code-a-thon in New York on late May, where a group of volunteer programmers will concentrate on fine-tuning several aspects of the apps in collaboration with the Remás team. During the summer we will be testing the apps in focus groups with users and affiliate organizations. Our goal is to launch the apps in a predominantly Latin American area of Brooklyn in late summer 2011. The pilot will focus on the US-Mexico money transfer corridor, with data covering one zip code.
  • Current Needs: • More great developers! • Advisory board members with strong knowledge of and connections within the money transfer industry • Funding to enable us to work full-time on Remás and launch the apps • Outside expertise to help us hone our model for marketing Remás tools • Assistance in bringing the model to a scale beyond the pilot area, and beyond New York City • More input from and collaboration with organizations, institutions, government entities, and companies with parallel goals of expanding the financial options of immigrant communities and their access to critical information.
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Our idea:

Remás enables immigrants to save on money transfer fees, access the financial mainstream, and increase opportunities for themselves and their communities here and abroad. Remás addresses two problems:

1. International money transfer is a multi-billion dollar industry comprised of millions of small transactions, the costs of which are often not transparent. One in nine people living in the US was born in another country. In 2009, immigrants in the US sent $38 billion in funds – known as remittances – to their places of origin, mostly through money transfer companies like Western Union, MoneyGram, and dozens more. With variable fees and fluctuating exchange rates, money transfer costs are difficult to decipher and compare, restricting consumers’ abilities to make informed decisions about sending money home. Millions of dollars in savings every year are unrealized—savings that could benefit senders and their families here and abroad.

2. Limited financial access means restricted opportunities for immigrants and their communities. The majority of Latino immigrants lack mainstream financial access: in 2006, 37% had a bank account versus more than three-quarters of Americans born here, just one measure of a trend of limited financial access that curtails immigrants’ options for achieving prosperity as new Americans. Limited or inaccurate information about banking is one cause for this trend: respondents in one nationwide survey said they had not opened a bank account because they lacked the information about how to do so (25%) or thought they did not have the proper documentation (47%).

The solution

Remás’ foundational strategy is to fill critical information gaps to address the problems described above. Remás uses web and mobile technologies to provide money senders with accurate, easy to access information about all of their options for sending money home. We also advise immigrants of the benefits of banking and their options for opening bank accounts at responsible banks and credit unions that meet their needs. Remás apps are available in multiple channels to ensure that they are accessible to various segments of the target, and all are available in English and Spanish.

The apps are:

Remás Web: The price comparison website is the backbone of the suite of Remás tools. Our technology spiders the internet looking for the best deals for sending money across borders, and then aggregates this data into a warehouse stored at a reputable cloud hosting facility. The database is run on MySQL 5.5. The web application consists of a dynamic jQuery website connecting to a series of PHP webservices.

The website enables money senders to find the least costly options for sending money based on 1) zip code and 2) the amount and 3) destination of the money transfer. The website allows users to compare money transfer costs within a given zip code, and then shows where the options are on a Google map, along with relevant information about the locations (address, phone number, store hours) and directions. The website also enables users to compare the (relatively lower) costs of sending money online and addresses common questions about the logistics and security of sending money online. In the next development phase we will include a function for users to rate and review money transfer companies information as well as information about how to file a complaint about a money transfer issue, both with the company itself and with the appropriate regulatory body.

Remás Mobile: We recognize that many of our users primarily or exclusively access the web on mobile devices. With this in mind, we have developed a mobile website that provides a condensed version of the information on the desktop website. The mobile website can be accessed on any phone that is enabled for the web. In the next development phase we will include location-based mapping functionality on the mobile site.

Remás Text: Many users do not have regular access to the web on any device, but over 90% of Latin American immigrants have a cell phone, according to a 2010 survey. Our text message tool enables users to enter their zip code and the destination and amount of the money transfer to get a comparison of the three least costly options for sending money home, as well as the locations of these stores.

Remás banking tool: Remás is now developing a tool to enable users to search for banking options based on what documents they have as identification, how they will use a banking tool will be targeted to both end-users and advocates as an information source about local options for finding responsible banks and credit unions that meet the needs of immigrant users. Additionally, the Remás website will explain in Spanish and English the benefits of being “banked”, and provide connections to local organizations that offer other financial literacy resources.

Progress to this point/resources we now have:

• Remás is now working on a limited budget. All progress to this point has been achieved by a team of unpaid volunteers who are passionate about bringing their skills to bear on the social needs that Remás addresses.

• We have a strong network of supporters and allies who are money senders, and have met with over 100 money senders in New York and Philadelphia to get their input on our tools and strategy.

• Remás has been fiscally sponsored by the Fund for the City of New York since February 2011, enabling the organization to raise funds under FCNY’s 501c3 status.

• A pro bono attorney provides legal advice, and a graphic designer helps us make things pretty

• A team of industrial design grad students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia has helped us to research the money transfer market, better understand how people make decisions about sending money, and to hold focus groups with money senders about the Remás tools.

• Remás was selected for and participated in Givecamp 2011 in January, a Microsoft sponsored code-a-thon that paired Remás with a team of six programmers who built out a large section of the Remás price comparison site and built an Android data feed app.

• Remás was one of the four organizations nationwide selected for Making Policy Public, a project of the Center for Urban Pedagogy to educate people about critical policy issues that affect them in their everyday lives. Remás will work with CUP designers to produce a foldout poster geared toward immigrant money senders that explains their rights and options for accessing banks. The project will result in 2,000 posters that will be distributed to key venues throughout New York City to educate money senders and promote the Remás tools.

• We have worked to develop relationships with organizations in New York City that address issues of financial justice in immigrant communities, as well as neighborhood organizations from churches to immigration associations. These relationships will be an important resource in marketing the Remás tools.



Our team:
Kim Burgas – Graphic and web designer
Zach Greenberger – Lead Developer
Brendan McBride – Founder and project lead
Chris Peters – Developer

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Sometimes, little johnny, try as we might not to, we just need some extra divs. There there, dear, I know. I know.