US payments service MoneyGram International has partnered with Astra Tech, a technology-focused investment company backed by Abu Dhabi’s G42, to offer money transfer services on popular Middle East internet calling platform Botim.
Through the partnership, Astra Tech will offer Botim’s 90-plus million users “seamless international transactions” that can take place in real time across 200 countries and territories worldwide, the companies said in a statement on Thursday.
The partnership will become available soon for consumers, they added.
Working with MoneyGram will make international money transfers “as easy as text messaging and remove the hassles of standing in long lines, tedious form-filling and unnecessarily carrying cash or paying additional fees”, Abdallah Abu Sheikh, Astra Tech’s founder and Botim’s chief executive, said.
“This represents our ability to connect people not only socially but also financially, while demonstrating our arrival as the first chat-based communication platform that enables people to send money home with a click of a button,” he said.
Dubai-based Astra Tech acquired Botim earlier this month as it prepares to launch an “ultra app” to serve a wide range of consumer needs, from instant messaging to digital payments. However, the company did not disclose the value of the transaction.
The deal came after Astra Tech started a $500 million funding round led by G42.
The acquisition will give Astra Tech access to Botim’s 90 million registered users — 25 million of them active — after a revamp of the VoIP service.
Botim, which was developed by US company Algento, was introduced in the UAE in 2017 as one of only two licensed VoIP apps, the other one being C’Me.
Aside from VoIP calls, Botim also offers phone recharge, bill payment and allows users to order food and groceries using the app.
Remittance flows to low and middle-income countries were set to increase 5 percent on an annual basis to $626 billion in 2022, despite global macroeconomic headwinds, with India to receive a record $100 billion this year, the World Bank said in December.
People remitting money through Botim can send the funds to the beneficiary’s bank account, mobile wallets or have the cash picked up from any MoneyGram agent location, Mr Abu Sheikh said.
The remitter’s bank account or mobile wallet must also be linked to Botim, he added.
While Botim is free to use for consumers in the UAE with an active internet calling plan with either Etisalat or du, a remittance fee in the range of Dh6 to Dh10 ($1.6 to $2.7) will be charged for each transaction, depending on the corridor or country the money is being sent to, Mr Abu Sheikh said.
“This [partnership] will enable us to extend our reach to the millions of consumers who use MoneyGram, enabling seamless communication and money transfer for businesses, family and friends around the world,” said Alex Holmes, chairman and chief executive of the global money transfer service.
With nearly nine million foreigners living in the UAE, the partnership will help MoneyGram to accelerate its digital growth further and promote financial inclusion in the region, the statement said.
Meanwhile, Botim is positioned to reach up to 1.2 billion users in the Mena region in the next few years, given the region’s sizeable foreign population and strong demand for free VoIP services, it added.
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Updated: January 26, 2023, 5:45 AM