With low sending costs but high barriers to market entry (licensing and regulation), the UAE remittance industry is relatively unique globally, and among the key players is Al Fardan Exchange. Founded in 1971 and currently run by a young team with global ambitions, Al Fardan is a dominant presence in the country’s remittance market, both under its own name and as the back engine of Western Union’s UAE digital operations.
I caught up with Hasan Fardan Al Fardan, CEO of Al Fardan Exchange, to find out how the UAE’s remittance landscape has changed in the pandemic, and how the company plans to build on its presence.
Operating as Al Fardan Exchange in the UAE and Al Fardan Group in the wider region, the company caters to a mixture of blue collar and white collar workers. This is through both its own brand, and Western Union, which it provides remittance as a service to under its Category C licence in the UAE. It also offers wage payment services, as well as multicurrency card programmes through its Travelez brand. Hasan also says the company has one of the strongest correspondent banking networks in the region.
During the pandemic, the UAE faced significant lockdowns, but the government asked Al Fardan branches to remain open, categorising remittances as an essential service. Hasan had the following insights into how the market changed over the period:
- The company saw some shift to digital, but the “overwhelming majority” of customers continued to use retail/cash outlets. Hasan says that the company’s blue collar workers in particular have a preference for these over digital.
- Al Fardan also saw a “high surge” on both its own app and Western Union’s app in the UAE, with white collar workers showing a preference for digital remittance services.
- However, he says cash saw greater growth than digital, despite transactional use of cash decreasing during the period.
- As the economy recovers, meanwhile, Hasan is seeing a strong rebound in both C2C and B2B, which he expects to continue throughout the year.
Looking to the future, the company has a number of plans for continued growth:
- Al Fardan is already adding additional services to offer remittance customers, including facilities to pay bills and take out insurance, and is exploring others to add in the future. These include buy now, pay later options, as well as mobile wallets, which are gaining popularity in the UAE.
- It also plans to grow its presence in other Gulf countries, and eventually to expand its presence internationally to achieve a “global footprint”.