MARIANAS REMITTANCE INDUSTRY HAS NEW PLAYER

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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (September 12, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---With Filipinos comprising almost half of the total population of nonresidents in the Northern Marianas, a United-States based remittance company has opened a branch in the CNMI, joining the brewing competition in the money transfer industry here.

U.S.-based UniTeller commenced remittance operations between Saipan and the Philippines last month, after obtaining a license from the CNMI government, bringing to nine the total number of money transfer companies serving Filipino workers on the island.

Of these nine remittance companies, however, Asia Pacific Corporation has yet to start operations although it has already secured its permit for several months now.

Remittance companies serving Filipino workers that are presently in active operations include Conor Express, Far East Financial, LBC Mabuhay, Limco Corporation, Pinoy Express, PNB Corporation, Rustan's Foreign Exchange and UniTeller.

More than 30,000 foreign workers in the Northern Marianas send a portion of their earnings to families and relatives back home, making the CNMI a paradise to remittance or money-transfer companies which mostly cater to Filipino and Chinese contract workers.

The Commonwealth's flourishing money-transfer industry is characterized by an exciting trend--when a company folds up, a new establishment contiguously emerges.

In 1998, one remittance company, Prince Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy and eventually closed shop.

That same year, however, New Century Development Inc., or the Far East Finance and the Philippine National Bank, which holds a regional office on Guam were granted their respective licenses to conduct money-transfer business.

The issuance of UniTeller's permit to operate brings to 12 the total number of door-to-door remittance establishments currently operating in the CNMI, including Thailand Food Store which caters to the Thai community in the Northern Marianas.

Commerce officials attribute the entry of new players in the money industry to the volume of remittances to the Philippines and mainland China, which has been manifesting steady increase each year.

Excluding remittance transactions made by workers from Thailand, Chinese and Filipino workers in the Northern Marianas have remitted over $17 million between April and June 2000, up from the first quarter's $16.9 million.

During the same period, remittances to the Philippines jumped four percent from $11.2 million in the January-March period to $11.6 million in the second quarter of the year, according to official figures from the Banking and Insurance Division.

At the same time, remittances by Chinese workers, who are mostly concentrated in the garment manufacturing industry, fell seven percent from $5.7 million in the first quarter to $5.3 million in the April-June period.

However, workers from the Philippines remain the largest market in the local money transfer industry with seven of the 10 licensed remittance companies in the CNMI exclusively catering to the Filipino community.

Officials said the continued depreciation of the Philippine peso against the United States dollar encouraged Filipino workers to send more of their hard-earned greenback home.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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