Facilitating Cross-Border Mobile Payments – Eric Barbier

Eric Barbier is the CEO of TransferTo, which operates a B2B Cross-Border Mobile Payments network for emerging markets, and he shares his interesting entrepreneurship journey and vision to make TransferTo the default global network interconnecting financial institutions in developed markets and the new financial systems in the emerging markets.


Tell me a little bit about yourself.


I first arrived in Singapore in 2002 and at the time I was involved with Mobile 365, the largest mobile messaging network, which I co-founded in 1999 and later sold in 2006 to Sybase. It was during this time that I was ready for my next challenge and Singapore seemed like the perfect place to start a new business. So, with my background and experience in telecoms, I decided to launch TransferTo in 2005. Singapore is the company’s global headquarters and we have regional offices in Miami, London and Dubai, and local representation in Mumbai, Jakarta, Nairobi, San Salvador and Barcelona.


I’m also an engineer by training with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology. I have now lived in Singapore for a total of 10 years.


What is your business venture about?


TransferTo operates a B2B Cross-Border Mobile Payments Network for emerging markets, processing transactions in real-time for duly licensed financial institutions and merchants. We offer solutions for businesses providing International Money Transfers, Mass Payouts & Incentives and Merchant payment services.

In short, we help facilitate the movement of money to mobile phones in emerging markets.


How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I got the idea in 2004 while I was in the Philippines when I noticed people were exchanging mobile credits between each other via SMS. I found this concept very interesting and thought that if people are using prepaid credit in their everyday lives, there was potential to take it beyond borders. As I was already working to facilitate international interconnection between telecom operators, starting TransferTo was the next natural step.

I built the company around a fundamental purpose: to offer a network infrastructure enabling people to send and receive money easily via mobile.


What is your mission at the outset?


I wanted to make moving money around the world as simple as sending an SMS.


What is unique about your business?


It would certainly have to be our deep knowledge of the emerging markets. We may be a global company, but have abundant local expertise and knowledge. Our regional teams know and understand what is happening on the ground and this is why people are coming to us. On top of this, we offer a stable, and scalable network, with seamless and quick API integration, which makes the entire process easy and hassle-free.


We have the agility of a FinTech startup while being a profitable company with a 12-year track-record. And as well our company is fully compliant and we adhere to all the global standards.


Who do you sell to and how do you get customers? 


Our customers include a mix of money transfer operators, mobile operators, NGO’s and international merchants, including PayPal, Xoom, UNICEF and Western Union. We offer International Money Transfers, Mass Payouts & Incentives and Merchant Payments, helping our customers to perform digital payments globally.


We mainly acquire our customers through networking and relationship building. As we have a local team based in every region, we’re able to meet and develop relationships with key players who are serving the unbanked. With our unique product offering, we help play a key role to help drive financial inclusion for billions of people in the emerging markets.


Why will customers stay or do repeat business with you?


Our network offers our partners:

  1. Transparent FX and fees: The FX rate is shared upfront and there are no hidden fees
  2. Real-time transactions for International Money Transfers, Mass Payouts & Incentives and Merchant Payments
  3. It’s scalable with a single commercial relationship, a single operational process and a single settlement


What have been the biggest obstacles? 


Initially, when I was setting up TransferTo, it was a struggle to convince people of my idea. In fact, it took 18 months for me to secure our first customer. I now look back at how far we’ve come as a business and I’m so happy and proud of what we have achieved to date.


On a day-to-day basis, my biggest challenge is compliance. This is something that takes up a lot of my time and because we’re in a fairly high risk environment, it’s important we’re up to speed with all the global regulations.


If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?


Don’t waste people’s time. You can always earn more money but time is lost forever so pay a lot of attention to people’s time (and your own) in business. It’s the most precious thing.


Who is your biggest inspiration or drive to do what you are doing?


We once had this interesting case where one of our customers was using our system for something unexpected. It was an NGO program in Pakistan encouraging pregnant women to visit their doctor on a regular basis – as its not traditional for people there to have regular doctor visits. Each time they made a visit to their doctor, these women were being sent monetary rewards through their mobile phone, along with educational quizzes they could participate in and be rewarded. Before this, I never imagined our system would have this impact and it makes me very proud. It’s what drives me to continue growing our business.


What’s next for you and for TransferTo?


We want to continue to grow to become the default global network interconnecting financial institutions in developed markets and the new financial systems in the emerging markets. Over the next 3-5 years we’d be looking to expand our staff base and global presence and eventually take the company public. I will be involved in identifying new growth and partnership opportunities to make this happen.


For more information about TransferTo, please visit www.transfer-to.com

Chia Hock Lai

Chia Hock Lai

Chia Hock Lai is passionate about how technology is disrupting the way financial services are being delivered to consumers and businesses, and in the process making the financial system more efficient and inclusive.

Hock Lai has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, having performed roles in both business and technology. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (Real Estate), Nanyang Technological University (Infocomm Technology) and Nanyang Polytechnic (Fund Management & Administration).

He is also a Fellow of the Singapore University of Social Science, advisor to FinTech Startups and mentor to student FinTech projects.
Chia Hock Lai
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