Cash for Christmas- Who is sending money to you?

December 20, 2011

Christmas can be a wonderful and joyous time of year, spending time celebrating with family, friends and colleagues. We also spend a lot of money on gifts, food and travel that can leave us ill-prepared financially for the new year. Many Fijians are blessed to have relatives overseas who send money throughout the year and especially around holidays. This year you have a chance to give back to those relatives by letting them know of several new and cheaper options to send money home to Fiji.

The money sent home by your loved one working abroad in another country is called a remittance. According to the Reserve Bank of Fiji, the total recorded remittance inflows to Fiji in 2010 were close to F$300 million, putting it in the top ten recipients of personal remittances in East Asia and the Pacific. Up until recently, it cost an average of 18% (or 18 cents for every dollar sent). That is $54 million going to fees to exchange money. And that doesn’t even include the amount that many Fijians spend to get the money from the nearest town or post office. Your friends and relatives work hard for that money as soldiers, nurses, engineers and yes, rugby players. But now you can help them save money while they help you.

So how do you receive money from relatives? Many people send money home with a traveling friend or family member. This is a common way to send money and it’s usually free. But it is not always the fastest, it can be an inconvenience to that person and honestly, it’s not the safest. The majority of Fijians still send money through Money Transfer Operators (or “MTOs”) like Western Union or MoneyGram and many smaller firms. These can be convenient for the sender because there are outlets worldwide and around Fiji and neither the sender nor receiver need a bank account. Unfortunately, they can be pretty expensive.

If you and the sender have a bank account (about half of Fijian households have one), then the banks offer money transfers as well. ANZ reduced costs by 75% (Fiji $60 to $ 15) for sending money from Australia to Fiji and plans to introduce a prepaid money transfer VISA card in 2012 in Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. In this system, there will be two cards, one with the sender and one with the receiver of funds. The sender loads the money in Australia onto their card which a family member or friend living in the Pacific can access using the other card.

Westpac has been offering this two card system for transfers from New Zealand to pacific countries from the start of 2011, and sender saves close to $72-92 for sending money four times in a year. If you don’t have a bank account you should open one; Westpac offers a low cost account called Basic Choice account that charges no monthly fees, but charges you only for each transaction. You can also keep some of the money you are receiving and save it so you can start the year off right.

There are also some new possibilities. Both Digicel and Vodafone now offer international remittances from Australia and New Zealand to Fiji as part of their mobile money services. M-PAiSA partners with Lotus Foreign Exchange which has outlets in all three countries and the service is cheaper than many other operators and the funds are send directly to you mobile phone. All the sender needs to know is your Vodafone mobile number. Once the money is in your M-PAiSA account you can save it, cash it out at any M-PAiSA agent, pay your FEA or Water Bill or even the money due to Courts.

Digicel has an incredibly cheap international remittance service that you access on the Digicel Mobile Money website. Through a partnership with a New Zealand firm called KlickEx a sender with a bank account in New Zealand or Australia or a credit card can use the on-line system send money to anyone in Fiji to their mobile number. Like M-PAiSA the money is sent directly to your phone and you can save it, cash it out at a Digicel Mobile Money Agent, pay bills, send it on to someone else and top up your phone. Of course the sender needs a bank account and a computer to get the best rate and credit card companies may charge their own fees to the sender. Digicel is offering this service without fees for the holiday season.

Like the banks, international money transfer operators and the mobile money services are licensed and monitored by the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

The fact is there are many new and improved and cheaper options to send money to Fiji. So help those who are generous with you and save them money. You can learn more about the cost of sending money home to pacific countries from Australia and New Zealand using a website calledwww.sendmoneypacific.org. The site has links to all of those services mentioned in this article and lets you or your relatives to quickly compare what different options to send money, including how much it costs and how long it takes. If your relatives can compare, they can save money and help drive prices down. Since early 2009 when the website was launched and July 2011 costs from Australia have fallen by 6.3% and from New Zealand by 3.8%. For sending money from Australia the cost is now on average 18.1% and from New Zealand it is 14.8% and falling.

Your relatives sending money may not know all of these options. So call or text your family and friends overseas and tell them to go to www.sendmoneypacific.com. Most of these services also have help desks and phone support, so your relatives could call them to find out how to get the best rate to Fiji. If everyone in Fiji started using lower cost options you could bring down the cost of sending money to F$30 million or more. That might be a hundred dollars or more in savings for some senders each year. And arent’ they worth it?