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Pros and cons of cross-border payment alternatives for NGOs

We weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of different methods of moving money internationally.

NGOs often struggle to find financial services that adequately meet their needs.

Whether it’s high costs, delays and even denials of fund transfers. Or difficulties tracking payments or understanding different regulatory requirements. Cross-border payments can be painful for NGOs.

The good news is that various options are now available for moving money across national borders. We examine their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Banks
  • Card schemes
  • Exchange houses
  • Fintechs
  • Hawala
  • Money service businesses


Banks have linked their different domestic systems together to enable cross-border transfers. Information is passed via networks like SWIFT or Fedwire, and the sending and receiving institutions settle up after the money has been deposited on account.

  • Established reputation, known and trusted by donors, NGO boards, governments etc.
  • Secure way to move money
  • Coverage is global in theory
  • Slow transfer times measured in days, sometimes weeks if payments go missing
  • May be expensive for hard-to-reach transfer corridors, with fees not known upfront
  • Lack of transparency around transfer routes, status and execution times

Card schemes

The major international card schemes are now using their networks for remittance as well as purchase transactions. Visa Direct and Mastercard Send programs allow payment transfers to and from billions of card, bank and digital accounts, both domestically and cross-border, some in near-real time

  • Secure way to move money
  • Faster than bank transfers
  • Flexibility of pay-outs to debit, credit and prepaid cards, as well as bank and digital accounts
  • May be expensive
  • Does not cover all countries and currencies consistently
  • Execution times may vary

Exchange houses

Exchange houses are particularly prevalent in the Middle East. They allow expat workers without bank accounts to send money back home. Many have diversified and now offer other financial services, such as remittance apps, payroll and travel cards.

  • Cost, may offer better rates than banks
  • Good branch network in malls and kiosks
  • May not need a bank account locally to initiate funds transfer
  • Does not cover all countries and currencies
  • Difficult to initiate transfers from outside the Middle East


Modern cross-border payment solutions providers, like Inpay, are improving the movement of money internationally. They are building their own networks of participating institutions to cover various countries and currencies. And devising new and innovative solutions to old problems of liabilities and liquidity, trust and transparency and compliance.

  • Global coverage
  • Faster than bank transfers
  • Cheaper than bank transfers
  • Secure way to move money
  • Less established reputation, less known and trusted by donors, NGO boards, governments etc.


Based on an Urdu word meaning ‘trust’, hawala is an informal funds transfer system that transmits money without funds moving. Hawala dealers in the network keep records of the credits and debits on their accounts, and periodically settle with each other.

  • Enables people without a bank account to transmit funds outside the formal system
  • Good reach into countries where there are strict capital controls or sanctions on the flow of money
  • Faster than bank transfers
  • Cheaper than bank transfers
  • Anonymity of transactions makes hawala attractive to those wanting to conduct illegal transactions, causing some countries to ban or impose restrictions on it
  • May not be an approved method to transfer NGO funds
  • Does not cover all countries and currencies, so not a holistic solution for cross-border funds transfer, more a specific point-to-point solution

Money service businesses (MSBs)

The sector includes networks operated by large multi-national brands, such as Western Union and MoneyGram, regulated MSBs and unregulated or unregistered businesses that ply their trade without a license. Transactions may involve one or more intermediaries and be routed via a clearing network to which the provider belongs.

  • Established and therefore known and trusted
  • Convenient, user-friendly platforms and apps
  • Fast transaction times
  • Secure way to move money
  • Commissions and fees may be expensive
  • Transaction limits may apply
  • Does not cover all countries and currencies
The bottom line

While they are generally the default entry point into financial services, banks may be unwilling or unable to deal with everyday NGO challenges. Fortunately, other options are available.

Modern cross-border payment solutions providers, like Inpay, are making the flow of global payments faster, easier and more cost-effective. They have the right reach to link NGO destination and origin countries and may already be accepted by governments as regulated entities.

When it comes payment speed, trackability, cost-effectiveness and service, alternative providers can certainly rival traditional ones. This means real-time pay-outs, absolute traceability, cost advantages and domain expertise.

Covering 70% of the top 17 countries receiving humanitarian aid via local bank transfer, and the remainder via international wire, Inpay helps the financial inclusion of societies otherwise cut off from the global economy.

Contact us at [email protected] to find out how we could help support your important work.

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