Coincidences, remittances and the blockchain

by Redd Angelo for Unsplash - remittances
by Redd Angelo for Unsplash

How time flies…

Back in November of last year, CoinDesk interviewed Peter Ohser, Chief Revenue Officer of Moneygram. He is reported as having dismissed bitcoin as a “poor fit” for cross-border commerce, largely due to the impact it could have on vital banking relationships. He also expressed skepticism as to the potential of the blockchain to revolutionize the remittance sector, on the grounds that it was “already efficient”.

Fast forward a couple of months, and Moneygram is bought by Alibaba’s Ant Financial.

A couple of weeks ago Ant Financial’s CEO gave an interview to CNBC acknowledging that the Chinese firm was exploring uses of blockchain technology.

Coincidence?

Ant Financial’s mobile payments unit Alipay has over 450,000,000 users in China, and aims to quadruple that over the next decade (according to the same CNBC interview). That’s going to require some investment in improving efficiencies and reconciling different systems.

What technologies might they be looking at?

According to the article accompanying the interview, artificial intelligence and the blockchain will be “deeply” integrated into Ant Financial’s operations.

This does not necessarily mean that Ant Financial will apply the blockchain to Moneygram’s operations. But the transition certainly looks more possible now than it did back in November.

Continuing with tenuous connections, last July Ant Financial announced that it was going to use blockchain technology to “clean up” China’s charity sector, which has a reputation of fraud and mismanagement.

Fast forward again, and cross an ocean. Last week it emerged that Western Union, Moneygram’s main competitor, has agreed to pay $586 million in fines for “aiding” money laundering and wire fraud.

I am in no way implying that Moneygram has done anything similar, not at all. But if the sector as a whole is vulnerable to the temptation, then perhaps Ant Financial will see an opportunity to prevent such incidents happening in the future? With, ooo I don’t know, the blockchain? As he did with Chinese charities?

At the moment it is no more than conjecture. But if Ant Financial decides to go ahead with explorations of how to put global remittances on the blockchain, that would be huge – not only because of the shockwaves it would send through traditional remittance suppliers, but also for the sheer size of the potential market, and the potential impact.

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