You may have noticed that at Oya we really care about being transparent about how much we charge our customers. That’s why we don’t add any hidden fees (also known as ‘exchange rate margin’ or ‘mark-up’) to our exchange rate and we also offer our customers a clear, fixed transfer fee (£1.99) irrespective of how much or how often they transfer.
Unfortunately, the money transfer industry is anything but transparent with banks and money transfer operators adding hidden fees within their exchange rates (while also charging customers a transfer fee). If you don’t think this seems fair, you are not the only one.
This is a long standing and widespread practice within an industry that has made billions globally in this way for many years. The problem is that for many people, exchange rate margins are much harder to understand so people continue to get ripped off when making their transfers. Over time these hidden fees can add up to some substantial amounts that go into the pockets of the banks and money transfer operators rather than reaching the friends and family for which the money was intended.
Our investigation focused on two of the biggest money transfer operators used today to send money to Nigeria (who for legal reasons will remain nameless but you probably can guess who they are!).
Although the practice of adding an exchange rate margin is by no means limited to these two, we decided to have a look at their rates as these are two of the dominant providers in the UK to Nigeria corridor.
All licensed International Money Transfer Operators (IMTOs), in line with the rules set out by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), are required to remit foreign currencies to their respective agent banks in Nigeria for the disbursement of Naira to the beneficiaries (for example, Oya works with Wema Bank). The foreign currency proceeds received by IMTOs are then to be sold (through the CBN) to Bureaux De Change operators in Nigeria for onward retail to end users. This flow of funds helps maintain the liquidity of foreign currency in Nigeria while the CBN monitors this in order to maintain the stability of the country’s foreign exchange regime. (Note that here we say ‘licenced IMTOs’ as there are also many unlicensed IMTOs in the UK, that don’t operate by the standards set by the CBN, but that is a discussion for another time.)
The CBN sets the rate at which these IMTOs, including the two in our investigation, can sell their foreign currency proceeds. As of today, that rate is set at NGN 382 : USD 1, multiplied by the USD/GBP market rate at the time of the transfer. You can find the USD/GBP live market rate on www.xe.com
For example, at the time of writing, the rate set by the CBN is calculated as:
NGN 382 x USD 1 x 1.2953 (USD/GBP market rate), therefore GBP 1 = NGN 494.79
Now let’s look at the rates provided by the two money transfer operators in question at the same time as the above – see if you can spot the exchange rate mark-up:
|Operator||Money Received||GBP/NGN Rate||% Mark-Up|
|IMTO #1||Cash Pick Up||N474.57||4.1%|
|IMTO #1||Bank Account||N491.34||0.7%|
|IMTO #2||Cash Pick Up||N485.84||1.8%|
|IMTO #2||Bank Account||N488.31||1.3%|
Let’s take a £300 transfer and IMTO #1’s Cash Pick Up as an example. They would sell you Naira at N474.57 and give you N142,370.64 for your Pounds. They would then pocket £12.26 of your £300 (or 4.1%) and sell the remaining £287.74 to the CBN at the bank’s rate of N494.79 which equals to the N142,370.64 that they gave you.
These are definitely not the worst examples in terms of inflating the exchange rates that we have seen but just consider the impact over a year and across all of the customers that these providers serve. Then consider that this is a common practice across the industry with almost all providers using hidden fees to take sneaky profits from customers.
Notice also the huge difference between sending money for cash pick up and sending money directly to your recipient’s bank account. Don’t make the mistake of using the former as the amount of money your family or friends get would be significantly smaller.
Let’s take IMTO #1 as an example assuming that you’ve transferred £300 to Nigeria:
- Cash Pick Up: £300 = N142,370.64
- Bank Account: £300 = N147,402.45
That’s N5,031.81 less when using the cash pick up service. However, even with a bank account transfer with IMTO #1 you are still getting less than you could be due to the exchange rate margin which is applied.
For example, with Oya (which doesn’t mark-up its rates) you could have got N148,437.93 (+N1,035.48 compared to sending money to a bank account in Nigeria with IMTO #1 and +N1,946.13 compared to sending money with IMTO #2). That’s just one transfer. If you multiply this by all of the transfers during the year and then multiply this by all of the customers using these two money transfer services you can start to get a sense for the scale of these hidden charges.
What can I do?
Don’t get ripped off by hidden charges. Check whether your bank or money transfer operator has added a hidden fee in their exchange rate. You can do this by using the formula we showed you above or by checking the rate on www.oyamoneytransfer.com or in the Oya app (which is always without a mark-up) and comparing this to your other providers.