Pangea, a Chicago-based mobile remittance service and app, has quietly made a name for itself in a sector with several companies vying for a small share of a money transfer market worth billions of dollars.
The company's coming out party, so to speak, was when it recently completed a new funding round with plans to expand to 16 more countries across three continents by the end of the year.
Pangea began its journey with mobile remittance services between Illinois and Mexico, not surprising considering the large Mexican population in Chicago. Since Pangea hit the market in 2014 after two years of development, it continues to add features such as a debit-to-debit card service and the ability for consumers to fund transfers with cash at most 7-Eleven locations in Illinois.
Mobile Payments Today sat down with Pangea's Lamia Pardo, senior vice president of growth and operations, to discuss the company and what's going on in today's mobile remittance market.
The following is edited down from a conversation that took place near Pangea's office near downtown Chicago:
MPT: What do you do to make Pangea different from others out there because there are a lot of companies right now offering similar products in this particular market, and then you have Moneygram and Western Union altering their products for mobile-only.
LP: I'll tell you about our thought process when we enter a new market.
The first part of that is trying to understand who our customers really are and differentiate them because people treat money transfer as something generic. But it's something very different when you're trying to target an expat, for example. They only care about the exchange rate because they're trying to send a lot of money back home and they don't worry about a few more steps in the process. I think for customers like that, there are good solutions in the market, but we're not focused on them.
Right now, we're focused on the immigrant population that is sending money more frequently. On our current platform, about 65 percent of our customers are coming from either Moneygram or Western Union. So, those are the customers that we're going after. It's not like we're standing outside of a Western Union agent and flagging down potential customers. But our customers are learning about us through different channels and it's really about servicing that particular customer. We then talk to the customers in-depth and then try to figure out how they are using the app. Where do they click? Where do they stop? What are the gaps?
For us, the success story is in the details. How do you navigate maps? How do you enter the payments screen? A few months ago, we added one-click weekly repeat transfers and conversions spiked for those users.
MPT: When you're able to secure the funding that Pangea received late last year, what does that say about this market in general, especially one where multiple companies can find success?
LP: We don't see this market as one where a single company will win. But the world needs to go mobile right now.
There is still a gap when it comes to mobile remittance even as remittance overall is growing. The opportunity is there for us in the market. That is the first thing on the checklist for us in the market.
Secondly, we have demonstrated an ability to think well on mobile. And that's led to 65 percent of our customers being recurring ones, and that's important for investors to see.
We're making sustainable gains and are able to make our returns back in an efficient way and in a reasonable amount of time while always providing the friendliness and savings on the user experience side. We're able to hold to our mission.
MPT: Earlier, you spoke about the need to connect to the end user, but how do you gain the trust of that consumer, especially when in some instances they don't particularly trust financial institutions?
LP: You've pointed out what I think is our biggest challenge in this industry. People often talk about the regulatory aspect of this business. I think if you're responsible, diligent and tech-savvy, you can navigate that regulatory environment.
But with marketing, that has been the biggest area where we're constantly battling. We now have a model that we can replicate in different states. It's a beautiful thing that just works, but it wasn't easy in the beginning. I've told my marketing friends that I've done marketing for different banks, different products, but this has been the most challenging one. But after you find your way in, there's some magic to it.
Right now, over 70 percent of our users on a monthly basis come from either word-of-mouth or referrals. It's about getting to the initial user base, and then they drive the traffic to us.
We also work with local organizations and those organizations are trusted. We also work with local social media influencers that can help foster deeper connections.
There's a component about understanding what trust means. Why do they trust you? We use a lot of workshops and local events to show people how the product works and that helps gain trust.
MPT: With the market changing as often as it does, how does Pangea make sure it's providing an experience that will keep users with this product?
LP: The way we actually measure whether our customer experience is good or not is based on an assumption we made. Of course, it starts with that, but our customer service team tries to contact everyone that opens an account and sends a transfer.
We also have a [feedback] system that is connected to different reports. We'll ask our customers why they like using the app. Last month, we found that 73 percent said it was easier to use.
We also get feedback from our brand ambassadors, who fill out a report everyday after they're out in the field or at events. They'll report back on the feedback they received from customers.
Having those reports is good for our staff and it gives us a sense of accomplishment. It's a moment of pride everyone at the company can take.
The reports also show how we have to stay on top of the user experience. Some companies put a lot of emphasis on the user experience, launch something and then move on to the next thing. We're not doing that.
Will Hernandez / Will Hernandez has 14 years of experience ranging from newspapers to wire services and trade publications. Before becoming Editor of MobilePaymentsToday.com, he spent two years as the content manager for PaymentsJournal.com, a leading payments industry news aggregator and information hub published by Mercator Advisory Group. Will spent four years covering the payments industry as an associate editor for multiple publications in SourceMedia's Payments Group based in Chicago.