We are pleased to introduce Mr. Martin Camahort, President оf Оpportunity Kauswagan Remit (OK Remit). We are discussing with Martin the specifics of the microfinance business in the Philippines and improving the customer journey by delivering affordable and accessible financial services in the region. OK Remit is based in Bonifacio Global City, Manila, Philippines and operates as a pro-poor digital financial services company. It is supported by Opportunity International, a global coalition of organizations dedicated to leveraging microfinance for providing opportunities to people in poverty to transform their lives.
Hi, Martin, thank you for accepting our invitation to share more about your company. Could you please describe OK Remit’s business?
OK Remit is a company incorporated to help extend financial services to the rural poor by working with microfinance institutions in this part of the world. It was founded in October 2013, but began commercial operations in May 2015. We have a customer base of roughly 200,000 customers with the potential to grow to about half a million or more within the next few years. We work primarily with microfinance institutions (MFIs) but also with other financial organizations located in the urban areas to help extend financial services to the unbanked population in the rural areas. This was one of the main reasons why OK Remit was established. Most of the MFIs mainly offer loan services, so our business model includes offering not only remittances but also bills payment, mobile phone top-ups and airline ticketing payments among others. This was basically the foundation where our business began.
What are the business challenges you are facing in your local market?
There are many challenges. The market of this type of non-banking financial services we are operating in is already quite competitive. There are a lot of established players on the market. The model we are pursuing is operating in a business area where banking and non-banking institutions have not entirely tapped in. This is the bottom of the pyramid that we are trying to reach out to. Although OK Remit is a private business, we also have a social mission to support financial inclusion. There are over 100 million people in the Philippines and I strongly believe that the difficult part is not really the competition. The biggest challenge is changing the mindset of the microfinance institutions to adopt technology at a faster speed and to sell services, other than just their loan products. That is why we decided that the remittance system we are offering should be as simple as possible. We operate at a different speed than these organizations do. That is why we had to adjust our pace of working. Slowly, the business is changing and moving towards a positive direction.
What were the reasons to choose Software Group for your solution partner?
To begin with our business, we had to select a vendor for the remittance system. We started our operations from scratch with no delivery channels. We ran a selection process with several software companies, most of them local. One of the main reasons we decided to work with Software Group was your well-established connection with Opportunity International (OI). You had worked with OI for quite a few years in Africa, so you had a proven track record. This was our biggest driver to take that decision.
Why did you choose the remittance platform from Software Group?
As already mentioned, before we started working with Software Group we did not have a remittance platform, only core banking systems. We didn’t want to have a typical old-school remittance platform. So, we chose Software Group because the company was open to customizing the solution from the get-go. We worked hand in hand with your team and designed a system how we would like it to be from scratch, as opposed to what other software developers were offering or what was currently being used on the market. The solution is flexible and adaptable to the market. It is an excellent software. The system is without any hesitation the best remittance platform in the industry here in the Philippines.
How do you impact the end customers in the Philippines?
What we are trying to do is to hopefully teach people to learn how to save. Our mission statement can be summarized in three words – accessibility, reliability and affordability. What we have done is to bring the service to the communities. So, there is no need to spend extra money on transportation or bring the kids for a trip to town to the nearest physical branch. There is no more need to close the business for half a day in order to fulfil a transaction. For us it is a big benefit to be able to bring these services directly to the customers. This results in a lot of savings for them and introduces them to the digital world by doing these types of transactions.
What is your relationship with Software Group? Please share more about that.
We love working with Software Group’s people. It’s a pleasure, because they always try to find the right solutions for our needs. The relationship is very good. We love the way your people work. They are easy to deal with and this goes all the way up to your CEO – Mr. Kalin Radev. There seems to be a good company culture in Software Group. With your company we have a transparent, open relationship, which helps us get the job done quicker.
What are your growth plans? Do you plan to expand in other countries in Asia?
For now we are based only in the Philippines. Expanding to other countries in Asia would be eventually the roadmap that we would like to take, but it is proven to be a challenge so far. Our aim is to make the model in the Philippines perfect and then from here hopefully to branch out to other areas Opportunity International is currently working in.
In terms of technology, our primary purpose is to increase the accessibility to financial services. The remittance platform was really just the foundation, the beginning point, because it is a service more people in the Philippines are familiar with. In July, we are planning to launch our card management system. With this we are aiming to reach out to roughly 200,000 more customers. In the next year to year and a half, our goal is to reach a total customer base of close to 1 million people with our card management operations.