By Eric Auchard
BERLIN (Reuters) - UK-based online money transfer firm Azimo is turning the process of sending remittances on its head by allowing mobile phone and computer users to send cash to any mobile phone number via text message, leaving it up to the recipient to claim the money.
The new feature, which was introduced on Tuesday, eliminates the need for senders to remember the account details or bank IBAN numbers in order to transfer money to recipients, a stumbling block that has complicated existing money transfers.
Indian mobile ecommerce site Paytm also operates a similar feature. Paytm is owned by One97 Communications and has proved to be hugely popular since the country's government demonitized all old 500 ($7.70) and 1000 rupee banknotes in November.
Azimo, a UK-regulated firm, allows phone or computer users in 28 Eurozone countries to transfer money to around 190 countries. It is mainly used by immigrants to send money home to relatives in emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe, West Africa, South Asia, the Philippines and Latin America.
Azimo’s 'request' function brings recipients into the process for the first time and is made possible by the recent proliferation of smartphones in emerging markets, something not possible when the London-based company launched in 2012.
"People on the receiving end in emerging markets now have smartphones, so they can be in charge. They can have more control in requesting the cash, receiving the cash," Michael Kent, the company's co-founder and chief executive, told Reuters in a phone interview.
"This is built for the way customers on both sides of a remittance work today."
Azimo users can choose one of their phone contacts to send money. Recipients receive a text message with a link to download the Azimo app and claim the money. They can then link the app to a financial account or go to a local kiosk to claim their money.
The company also is introducing the money request feature in the United States and Canada and will roll the service out across globally in the course of the year. Azimo says it has more than 1 million senders and receivers using its apps.
It competes with other online remittance firms including WorldRemit and CurrencyFair, as well as kiosk-base money transfer giants such as Western Union and MoneyGram, which also now offer online money transfers services.
The market has heated up in recent years as U.S. web-based payments player PayPal acquired remittance app Xoom and Ant Financial [ANTFIN.UL], an affiliate of Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba has sought to buy MoneyGram, but faces U.S. regulatory challenges over national security concerns.
Azimo has raised around $47 million (38 million pounds) in venture funding over the past five years. Kent said the company was fully funded until at least 2018.
($1 = 64.9600 Indian rupees)
(Reporting By Eric Auchard, editing by Pritha Sarkar)