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  • Writer's pictureAffy Bhatti

How a Perth-based start-up is helping migrants navigate financial discrimination

This article was published by PerthNow on 9 May 2024. Click here to read the article.


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A Perth-based startup says reducing international transaction fees could tackle the financial discrimination that affects many new migrants.


Fintech start-up Bless Payments launched late last year as a new global money transfer app that allows people to send money to “underserved” countries quickly and without high fees.


It reduces the high banking transfer fees and transaction delays to more than 20 countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

co-founders
(L-R) Co founders Mo Zaatar, Affy Bhatti and Omair Chodhry. Credit: David Chong

Bless Payments co-founder Affy Bhatti moved to Australia more than two decades ago from the United Kingdom, where he grew up with his parents who moved there from Pakistan.


With a wealth of experience in financial services, Mr Bhatti is well-versed in the banking sector.


But dealing with banking regulations is also something he has viewed through a personal lens.

“I send money to England and over the years, it’s gotten better, technology has improved,” he said.


“When I send money to my mum or my sisters in the UK, it’s usually instant, it doesn’t cost anything, it’s really inexpensive.


“When I send money to my cousins in Pakistan, it’s not the same. It costs a lot more and it takes a bit longer.”

Affy Bhatti
Bless Payments co-founder Affy Bhatti said the app allows people to send money to foreign countries quickly and cheaply. Credit: David Chong

Remitting money overseas can carry different charges depending on which country you are sending the money to.


In late 2023, exchange rates showed sending $500 to the UK would set you back $2.93. Sending the same amount to Pakistan would cost you $4.22, $6.38 to Vietnam, $7.13 to Egypt, $11.17 to South Africa and $12.75 to Botswana.


“When you’re dealing with any kind of money, it’s a massively regulated market,” Mr Bhatti said.


“Banks and other financial services will say ‘how do I assess risk of a country’.”


The Basel Institute on Governance — a Swiss-based not-for-profit — ranks countries on a risk scale according to factors like money laundering, terrorism, financing regimes and rates of corruption and bribery.


Heat maps of the world show ‘risky’ — and more expensive countries — as amber or red, while low risk countries appear green.


“England, the whole of western Europe, Canada, America, Australia, (they are) all green, very low risk,” he said.


Mr Bhatti, a Yokine local, says Bless Payments — which he co-founded alongside Mo Zataar and Omair Chodhry — makes sense of these risk indicators and chooses to view countries through a different lens than the regulators.


“We see that some parts of the world are well served,” he said.


“We’re not targeting those parts of the world, because you can use different apps, financial services or institutions to send money there and it’ll get there quickly and it’ll get there cheaply.”


It’s a bid by the founders to “level the playing field” for migrants.

Last year, an open letter addressed to Treasurer Jim Chalmers signed by 19 multicultural groups and financial companies asked the Government to reduce costs in international payments.


The letter said the main driver of the costs was the “excessive” and “undisclosed” retail margins on exchange rates followed by international payment providers and money transfer operators.


“These undisclosed margins on exchange rates are a form of hidden fee, one which is allowed under the current law,” it said.


“This is an impost on the cost of living for many families, particularly those who are remitting funds to their families abroad.


“It is also an impediment to doing business in Australia when a business has an international supply chain or payroll obligations.”


Mr Bhatti said there is no “silver bullet” to financial prejudice but efforts can be made to prevent things like predatory banking solutions.


“I don’t think we are the only answer,” he said.


“I think all of us have to work in unison to do this.”


Since launching late last year, Bless Payments has seen a large share of customers sending money to Egypt and Pakistan as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Turkey.


An Australian Banking Association spokesperson told PerthNow there had been “improved price transparency” for customers with all major banks now offering calculators to give customers “full transparency” on the exchange of currencies.


“It is a highly competitive market and customers ultimately have significant choice across many different exchange services,” the spokesperson said.


“Price is not the only consideration for customers, with safety and security of foreign exchange transfers often an important priority.”

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