Financial Inclusion of Blue-collar Men and Women Migrants in the UAE: Opportunities and Challenges—The Case of RAKBANK and Edenred

Authors: Mercy Wachira, Julie Kamau and Alejandro Gonzalez-Caro

Key highlights

  • Eighty-eight percent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) population constitutes migrants, accounting for billions of dollars in outward remittances. Close to 60 percent of these migrants constitute low-income, or blue-collar, workers, earning less than the minimum requirement to open a UAE bank account.

  • COVID-19 restrictions greatly encouraged migrants’ adoption and use of digital remittances, such as C3Pay. This was further aided by the suspension of UAE Exchange’s license by the Central bank of UAE.

  • Migrants’ use of digital remittance channels has continued to grow in volume and frequency post the pandemic. However, there is still scope to improve migrants’ financial inclusion and resilience.

  • Edenred has nearly doubled the number of women eligible to make digital remittances through its C3Pay app and has onboarded more women field and telesales agents to support this.

Introduction

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the sixth-largest number of migrants in the world. A staggering 88 percent of its 10 million people are international migrants, of which 26 percent are women [1]. According to the World Bank Global Findex, the gender gap in bank account ownership between men and women in the MENA region as of 2021 was 13 percent, the widest in the region [2].

UNCDF’s collaboration with RAKBANK and Edenred aims to improve access and usage of the digital remittance channel through C3Pay—Edenred’s solution that enables migrants to receive their wages digitally. UNCDF technical assistance extends to market research, business strategy, transaction data analysis, and migrant-centric and gender-smart product design and strategy. Based on the experience in working with Edenred and analysing more than one million transaction records, this blog shares critical insights on migrants’ access to and usage of digital remittances and financial services towards building long-term resilience to shocks. 

1. Access to digital remittances

The analysis of Edenred’s customer and transaction data indicates migrants’ usage and access to digital remittances consider several factors, including demographics, customer preferences, and remittance transaction costs. Most migrant workers (64 percent) in the UAE are employed in blue-collar jobs (see UAE’s 2019 Labour Force Survey). Men migrant workers are spread across different occupation groups, with a majority employed in craft and related occupations compared to women migrant workers who mainly work in elementary occupations.

Almost 50 percent of Edenred’s customer base, C3Pay cardholders, are employed in manufacturing and construction industries, which generally have low proportions of women migrant workers (see UAE’s 2019 Labour Force Survey). Furthermore, migrant workers’ gender varies significantly across corridors (Figure II). Nearly all customers from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan are men, while women comprise over half of the customers from the Philippines.

More than 60 percent of migrant workers in the UAE are low-income workers earning less than US$1360 per month (AED5000) [3]. The minimum income requirement to open a bank account is AED5000. For most migrants, exchange houses and informal networks are still the preferred mode to remit money. In 2019, the Central Bank of UAE recorded that $36 billion was sent through exchange houses compared to $9.3 billion sent via banks [4].

The access and choices of recipients often determine the remittance channels migrants use. A high percentage of recipients in Nepal and the Philippines prefer the cash pick-up option to bank transfer (Figure IV). This could be because handling cash provides them with greater ease of use and control than digital channels [5].

An analysis of transaction frequency shows that men and women transact almost evenly on different transaction bands (Figure V). Further, the analysis indicates that sending remittances to be picked up in cash in the Philippines is expensive compared to bank transfers.

2. Usage of digital remittances

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted migrants’ use of digital remittance services. While initially it was expected that remittance would decline, as in other countries, there was an increase in account openings. As in most countries, the Government of the UAE initially responded by imposing temporary restrictions on movement [6]. This prompted a rapid switch from cash to digital remittances. Further, the suspension of UAE Exchange’s license by the Central Bank of UAE (an exchange house commonly used among migrant workers) [7] could have contributed to the increase in migrants’ adoption (Figure VI) and use (Figure VII) of the C3Pay app.

3. Financial inclusion and resilience

The volume of remittance flows sent through C3Pay continued to rise as migrants sent more frequent remittances to help their families mitigate the pandemic’s impacts (Figure VIII). There is still scope to improve migrants’ financial inclusion and resilience. Edenred has established a foundation of receiving wages digitally through C3Pay and can add value-added services such as savings, digital credit, insurance, and pension based on customers’ needs.

Next steps

UNCDF is working with RAKBANK and Edenred to ensure the full potential benefits of financial inclusion for migrants are realized through:

  • Digital inclusion of men and women migrants: Since the project’s outset, Edenred has added over 200,000 customers to the C3Pay app sending around US$272 million in remittances to their home countries. Edenred has nearly doubled the number of women eligible to make digital remittances through the C3Pay app. Moreover, it has onboarded more women field and telesales agents to support this.
  • Building the business case for women’s financial inclusion through Gender-smart and migrant-centric technical assistance. Edenred has been taking different initiatives to encourage women to participate in remittances.
  • Ensuring migrant voices are included during the product design stage through action-based market research to understand further the customer’s circumstances, goals, aspirations, motivations, needs, and challenges of migrants and their families.
References
  1. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2020). International Migration 2020 Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/452). Available at: https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/undesa_pd_2020_international_migration_highlights.pdf
  2. Global Findex Database 2021. Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/globalfindex
  3. United Arab Emirates Ministry of Cabinet Affairs. (2019) Labour Force Survey 2019. Available at: https://fcsc.gov.ae/en-us/Pages/Statistics/Statistics-by-Subject.aspx#/%3Ffolder=Demography%20and%20Social/Labour%20Force/Labor%20Force&subject=Demography%20and%20Social
  4. Central Bank of the UAE. (2019) Annual Report 2019. Available at: https://www.centralbank.ae/sites/default/files/2020-04/AnnualReportENG2019.pdf
  5. Asian Development Bank. (2021). Harnessing Digitization for Remittances in Asia and the Pacific. Available at: https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/714036/harnessing-digitization-remittances-asia-pacific.pdf
  6. The Federal and Competitive and Statistics Authority, United Arab Emirates. (2020). The UAE Government’s initiatives to combat the COVID-19 crisis April – June 2020. Available at: https://fcsc.gov.ae/en-us/Lists/D_Reports/Attachments/49/UAE%20Gov%20Initiatives%20to%20Combat%20Covid-19%20-%20En.pdf
  7. Zacharias, A. (2020). UAE Exchange branches open but services are suspended temporarily. The National News. Available at: https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/government/uae-exchange-branches-open-but-services-are-suspended-temporarily-1.994408

Insight Series

This article is part of a case study series on UNCDF remittance partners showing migrant and gender insights for better remittance access, usage, and financial resilience. This first series draws mainly from the market scan and transaction data covering around 70 million+ remittance transactions. The second series (forthcoming in 2022) demonstrates demand-side data, including a survey conducted among 3000 remittance senders and receivers and qualitative interviews. The data and research helped inform the remittance companies in piloting or scaling digital remittances and linked financial services.

Read our other case studies

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