A way for OFWs to control spending back home
Mary Ann Antolino, a single mother who works as a secretary, does not earn enough to support her family. She has two kids to send to school and an elderly father to care for. That’s why she’s thankful to her younger sister, Ecel, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), for helping them make ends meet.
Ecel, who has been working as a maid in Singapore for more than 10 years, feels it is her duty to provide for the needs of her family back home in Antique.
“It’s really just Ecel who supports my children … since she doesn’t have children of her own,” Mary Ann says in a phone interview, speaking in Filipino.
For more than a year now, Ecel has been using an online platform called Beam&Go to send grocery gift cards that Mary Ann can use in either Gaisano or Robinsons Supermarket. While she continues to send cash, Ecel says Beam&Go helps them save. “With money, you can just buy anything, but with the vouchers of Beam&Go, it is already budgeted,” she explains.
Ecel’s discovery of this Beam&Go came at the right time; Mary Ann had lost her income for a few months during the hard COVID-19 lockdowns.
Beam&Go provides a digital marketplace to buy and send gift cards to chosen recipients, connecting users to more than 8,000 products and services across 27 categories, including supermarkets, pharmacies, fresh goods and rice delivery, cellphone loading and restaurants. It offers vouchers at outlets closest to where recipients live.
After signing up, for example, an OFW like Ecel can buy a Robinsons gift card worth P500 for groceries, or a voucher from Generika drugstore for medicine. The platform then forwards a unique gift code to the beneficiary.
Beam&Go currently serves more than 270,000 users, mostly OFWs and their beneficiaries from Singapore, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates.
Jonathan Chua, CEO and cofounder of Beam&Go, says that many OFWs have been unable to uplift themselves or their families even as they continue to make sacrifices. “One big problem is that their remittances are being squandered and we believe a marketplace where an OFW could buy things for their family—thus controlling the spending—would be a good tool for them,” says Chua.
A son of Filipino-Chinese immigrants from Bacolod, Chua grew up in the United States. “I felt like they did things right,” he says of his parents, one of whom is a doctor. Even as his parents thrived overseas, they were active in giving back to the Philippines. They joined medical missions, raised funds for scholarship programs and helped initiatives to provide clean drinking water to the local community. “They are my role models,” he says.
Many OFWs are not in a position to be as benevolent. Based on a study published last year by the Philippine Statistics Authority, out of around 1.9 million OFWs who had sent cash remittances from April to September 2019, only 32.8 percent were able to save.
Beam&Go seeks to address the issue of remittance leakage and empower OFW families to better manage their finances and make responsible spending decisions.
“Our marketplace is an alternative to remittance. It is a seamless, cross-border, e-commerce platform, where an OFW can make purchases for family back home, ensuring that they have their basic needs and solving the problem of spending abuse,” Chua explains.
Total fees are also much lower than those paid at remittance centers at less than 3 percent of merchandise value.
“[W]e are the only marketplace with merchants and services in the Philippine provinces where a majority of the families live. These merchants are not represented in any other digital marketplace that allows OFWs access to them,” says Kathryna Cayabyab, head of marketing team at Beam&Go.
The fintech has also introduced a “request for payment” feature, which allows beneficiaries themselves to select items that their benefactor could pay for, thus making financial decision-making more inclusive.
Recently, Beam&Go has been selected as one of the five early-stage startups under the “Fintech for Impact” initiative of ING Bank and United Nations Children’s Fund, qualifying for equity-free investment as well as technical and business mentorship for one year to implement new projects.
What further sets Beam&Go apart from others, according to Chua and Cayabyab, is the approach to business, which combines a marketplace, a fintech and an upskilling platform in order “to make a holistic social impact.” Earlier this year, Chua’s team launched Beam&Go Academy to educate OFWs through a series of seminars with professionals. In their next phase, they aim to bring available jobs into the platform and prepare OFWs for a successful reintegration and repatriation to the Philippines.
The fintech has also experienced difficulties as some of the merchants in its marketplace either closed down or streamlined services. “At the beginning of 2020, we wanted to grow our products and services from 8,000 to 21,000, but because of the pandemic, we were unable to,” Chua says.
This year, the goal is to reach $830,000 in sales, lower than in previous years in consideration of the effects of COVID-19 on customer base and merchant partners.
Still, Chua sees a silver lining. “Now, they (OFWs) are experiencing more utility with online services, like e-commerce, bills payment [and] education. Eventually, it was going to happen anyway, but COVID accelerated the process out of necessity,” he says.
Digitalization has also opened up new opportunities for Beam&Go. “With a lot of companies transforming digitally to stay relevant during COVID, many local players are looking at us to provide payment solutions for their platforms so they can access the OFW market,” says Cayabyab.
At the onset of the pandemic last year, Beam&Go initiated Project KABAYANihan—a rice donation campaign that helped around 1,000 families. The fundraising platform also served as the disbursement platform for over $350,000 worth of aid-in-kind to 3,500 families from the Grameen Foundation and JP Morgan COVID-19 Relief. It also provided intensive onboarding of new merchants for door-to-door delivery of essential products during lockdowns. The group is also running another charity campaign this Christmas to raise $250,000 to help 5,000 families.
Chua plans to continue using this platform to help as many low-income families as possible. “The inspiration is simple: We are the lucky ones and for many who are suffering, they are just victims of circumstance. They have lost their jobs, incurred high medical bills, lost a loved one, or all of the above. [We’ve] got to help. It’s basic humanity,” he says.
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