“I distinctly remember that you would see long queues of people standing in line for hours to send money back home,” Oberholzer tells The Local. “There are a lot of workers from the Philippines in Hong Kong and they are making a big sacrifice to help their families. I would see them with these cardboard mats, which they would sit on, and they would be playing games to pass the time.”
Oberholzer, who is Swiss, also discovered first-hand the exorbitant fees that can be charged when receiving money abroad from his parents. He soon began to think that the entire money transfer process could be overhauled and improved.
Thousands of miles away in Cameroon, Swiss brothers François and Pascal Briod were having a similar light-bulb moment. The Briods first set up a non-profit organisation when they were youngsters to fund projects such as AIDs prevention workshops in Cameroon. However, despite their good work, they encountered high fees when transferring the funds they had raised to the African country. And their regular work visits to Cameroon were also an eye opener.
Photo: Co-founders François, Laurent and Pascal
“You would see advertising for money transfers everywhere but there was a lack of transparency about it all. Africa has always had a reputation for high money transfer fees; the global average is 7 percent, while in Africa it is still 12 percent,” says François.
Inspired and motivated by their foreign sojourns, the trio converged in their native Switzerland with an ambitious goal to shake up the world of international money transfers.
“It started with an idea to try to save $28 billion in excess fees, which is quite a lot of money that can be saved!” says François.
$28 billion may sound like an eye-popping amount but that figure is based on data from the World Bank which in 2014 reported that a total of $582 billion was sent in remittances. Migrants paid an average of 7.9 percent on those transfers so Pascal, François and Laurent estimated that billions could be saved if people used cheaper money transfer services.
Together in 2013, the trio founded a price comparison money transfer website and christened it Monito -- think Skyscanner but for money transfers. The business model is simple: users get to choose the best deal within a matter of seconds of entering their search request. Success has been forthcoming for the Swiss entrepreneurs with Monito scooping numerous start-up awards.
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The trio say that moving and living abroad has been key to their foray into entrepreneurship.
“You broaden your perspective when you live in another country. You encounter different problems so you have to try and find creative ways to solve things,” says Laurent.
Those problems can include learning a new language, finding your way around, embracing a new culture, as well as sending and receiving money from back home.
“Living abroad has been fundamental to me becoming an entrepreneur,” says Laurent of his time in Hong-Kong. “Migrants in any country have a higher propensity to be entrepreneurial; you are forced to go outside your comfort zone. Living in a different country changes your preconceptions and has a huge impact on who we are.”
That being exposed to multiculturalism can boost your career is also backed up by science. A 2013 scientific article in the Social, Psychological and Personality Science journal stated that ‘multicultural engagement' was paramount in predicting subsequent career success.
In the space of just six years, the founders of Monito have established strong relationships with money transfer operators as well as with their many returning customers. Their goal of saving consumers $28 billion in fees remains an ongoing motivator.
“Most people have no clue how much it costs to send or receive money. In some cases there are mind-boggling numbers of up to 25 percent because of all the hidden fees. We want to raise awareness in more markets,” says Laurent.
He continues, “We want to make things as transparent and simple as possible; banks don't have a strong interest in transparency. We are trying to help people save money and have been met with a positive reaction.”
The Swiss trio preach perseverance and passion for other expats keen to pursue entrepreneurship.
“We never considered that six years later this is where we would be. You have to try and see what you can do. There is no secret. You need to put in the hours and keep pushing,” says Laurent.
His colleague François concurs, concluding: “Just do it!”
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Monito.