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How social media is reshaping global money transfer

Social media: Great for sharing pictures, messaging friends and following celebrities, plus, according to one fintech start-up, sending cash around the world.

Singapore-based Fastacash believes social media is the key to making international money transfers faster and cheaper.

In partnership with global money transfer company Xpress Money, the three-year-old start-up has launched a remittance app called XOPO, which allows users to make cross-border payments via social networking websites including Facebook, Twitter and WeChat.

Fastacash claims its app is the first to allow users to send and receive money around the world via more than one social network.

"Everyone talks about the sharing economy but what people are not doing via these networks is sharing economics. They share videos and photos, but they are not sharing real economics such as money," Vince Tallent, chairman and chief executive of Fastacash, told CNBC in a phone interview.

"So we want to bring transaction capabilities to these communication networks. By making international transfers a social activity, not only are we disrupting how billions of dollars are moved across borders, for the first time people will be able to transact in the same way as they communicate, with no barriers and boundaries," he said.

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At the moment, social media giant Facebook allows peer-to-peer (P2P) payments via its Messenger app for free, while China's dominant messaging app, WeChat, charges a fee of 0.1 percent for spending and transfers over 20,000 yuan ($3,141) per month between its users. However, both networking sites only allow payments to be made between users based in the same country.

In the case of XOPO, senders will need a debit card and a smart device. Once the app is downloaded onto the device, the sender can select a recipient to make payment to via any of the social media channels they are connected by. XOPO charges a flat fee of $4.52, regardless of the transaction size.

Recipients can receive money in their bank accounts or choose to collect them from the offices of Xpress Money.

According to World Bank estimates, more than 90 percent of fund transfers are sent to family members, who are usually connected on social networking websites. This connection between senders and recipients gives social media with a huge potential to disrupt the remittances market, analysts say.

"In the U.S., social networks and messaging apps such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger have been rolling out P2P payments but so far these have been limited to payments within the same country," Jack Kent, mobile director for IHS Technology, told CNBC via an e-mail interview.

"Given the scale of the international remittances market and the reach that social networks and messaging apps have, it makes sense for remittance companies to try to take advantage of such apps."

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But the issue of security stood out as a major concern among consumers who spoke to CNBC.

"I use social media such as Facebook very often so the concept [sounds] convenient but I am not sure if I want to try because I am worried if my money can reach my family safely," said J.M. Caspillo, a healthcare worker from the Philippines who moved to Singapore three years ago. Caspillo sends home about 20,000 pesos ($425.31) a month via a remittance center.

IHS's Kent agreed. "Security can be a concern for all mobile financial services and is a challenger for international remittance. Partnering with the necessary financial institutions is vital," the London-based analyst said.

But Fastacash believes that its partnerships with well-established financial institutions such as Singapore's biggest bank, DBS, will help instill confidence in consumers. The fintech company previously collaborated with the Singapore lender on the bank's "DBS Paylah!" app. DBS Paylah! is a mobile wallet that allows fund transfers using a mobile phone number.

"Security is of utmost importance to us and the way we address that is we ensure partnerships with tier-1 brands such as DBS, ICICI Bank and Xpress Money. These partners have been moving money around the world for years and they are regulated by regulatory bodies. Having trusted payment brands like these is critically important for us," Tallent said.

For now, the XOPO app is only available in the U.K., where users have had the ability to send funds to countries including India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines since October 28.

According to Fastacash, the U.K. is the world's fourth-largest source of remittances, behind the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with annual cash outflows estimated at over $25 billion.

In addition, the U.K.'s status as "one of the leading fintech hubs in the world" makes it an important market, Tallent said.

Fastacash aims to make the remittance app available in countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia. While the start-up declined to reveal a timeline for Asia, Tallent said the roll-out of the service in this part of the world, in particular China, was just "a question of time."

CORRECTION

This report has been updated to reflect that the app was launched by XOPO in partnership with Xpress Money.