As the remittance sent by immigrants to their homelands begin to dwindle due to an increase in unemployment, reductions in pay, and return migration, Citibank positions itself to capture what’s left of the Latino remittances market.
One year ago, Citibank launched the first, and so far, only remittance program between a United States bank and a Latin American Bank, Banco Bolivariano, the fourth largest bank in Ecuador. After one year, the transactions of remittances at just one of the five Citibank branches in Queens, grew to approximately 900 a month helped by their charge of below market value fees.
“Our intention is to promote a service that is a safer channel to send money with the added benefit that Citibank gets the Ecuadorian community here in the U.S. to start banking with us, ” said Luis Rosero, senior vice president for Citi Group, at the anniversary celebration at Sabor Latino restaurant in Corona on Wednesday, March 18.
Nationwide, 70 Citibank branches located near Ecuadorian communities offer the remittance service, Ecuagiros. With their Ecuadorian passport, national identification card or cédula, proof of address and $300 minimum deposit, Ecuadorians can open a checking account that will include access to the remittance service at the teller and online.
In the past year, 1,000 families, in both countries, have used the service, which permits them to send up to $3,000 per day to Ecuador for a fee as low as $5, according to Citibank. In Ecuador, 200 branches of Banco Bolivariano participate in the service, and if the receiver has an account with Banco Bolivariano, receiving fees get waived.
The family remittances director, Maria Gabriela Valverde of Banco Bolivariano’s Ecuagiros – the name of the remittance program – said that Ecuadorians in the U.S. sent $650 million in remittance in 2008 and Banco Bolivariano processed about 20 percent of those dollars. So far, Citibank participated in two percent of Banco Bolivariano’s total volume of remittances.
Citibank has a small retail presence in Latin America and for this reason, it partnered with a local bank, Banco Bolivariano that had already established a track record with their remittance partnerships with banks in Spain and Italy.
Helen Cadena, a resident of Elmhurst, has most of her family back in Ecuador. She first opened a Citibank account in 2003 and began to use the remittance service one year ago.
“I’ve recommended the service to friends, family and co-workers,” said Cadena, an accountant by trade. “I find it to be convenient and economical, especially if they open an account with Banco Bolivariano [in Ecuador].”
A newer customer, Sandra Freire, opened an account with Citibank just five months ago because she had recently bought property in Ecuador and needed to wire money more frequently.
“Before I hardly sent money but now with the investment I made in Ecuador, I need to send money,” said Freire. “I’m very happy with how quick the money arrives and the customer service.”
Though at the moment Citibank has only this remittance partnership with Banco Bolivariano in Ecuador, according to a Citibank spokesperson, expansion and potential partnership with at least another Latin American bank have been discussed.