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Entrepreneur with Boise roots built a company to help immigrants, and it’s booming

UPDATED: Sun., Sept. 2, 2018, 8:57 p.m.

Matt Oppenheimer, CEO of Remitly, testifies before the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance last year. (Screenshot from congressional video)
Matt Oppenheimer, CEO of Remitly, testifies before the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance last year. (Screenshot from congressional video)

Matt Oppenheimer is a Boise native whose Seattle tech startup is making a splash, with $5 billion being sent annually via his company, Remitly.

But he sees even more potential for Remitly, which facilitates the cross-border money transfers known as remittances. Put simply, his tech company helps immigrants send money home to their families and loved ones.

The Seattle-based company now has 700 employees worldwide, with new offices in London, Nicaragua and the Philippines.

“When we started, we were in a handful of corridors,” he said. People could send money from the U.S. to Mexico, for example. “We’re now in over 200 corridors across the globe.”

Oppenheimer says he’s looking at other areas where Remitly could offer financial services to its immigrant customers — along the lines of how USAA offers military families not just checking accounts but also auto loans, homeowners insurance and other services.

“The longer term vision of what we’re trying to [do is] transform the lives of immigrants and their family members,” Oppenheimer said. “Oftentimes they’re pretty underserved. They’re underbanked or unbanked.”

But that’s years in the future, he says. For now, he’s focusing on expanding Remitly’s existing business. He likens that focus to how Amazon nailed the book-sales niche before expanding into other online retail areas.

The average transaction through Remitly is a few hundred dollars, he said. And there are a lot of them, to get to $5 billion a year. But that’s just a tiny slice of the global pie.

“There’s $600 billion that’s sent every year, so we’re less than 1 percent of the remittance market,” he said.

He also is taking the opportunity to educate and advocate on immigration. He believes immigrants in the U.S. who need to send money home to their families are “not being treated with the level of respect they deserve” right now, he said. “The thing we have done that is really core to the business, and who I am, is to speak up on behalf of our customers. [They] make this huge sacrifice of leaving their families to build a better life. … It’s a key part of the American dream.”

As a first-time CEO, Oppenheimer said he thinks he could be “a lot more efficient” in leading his business if he could do it over again.

“The lessons right now that I’m learning are: How do we build out the right executive and leadership team? How do we get the right organizational structure in place as a global business? How do we launch and expand in new geographies? How do we create (the right corporate culture)? I didn’t know how to do those things when I started the company.”

And he probably doesn’t save much time by sending out an automatic email from his account whenever a new customer signs up. He loves that personal touch and loves hearing from Remitly users. But it means he gets a lot of email — multiple notes per day from customers.

Some of those messages tell him how Remitly can improve. Some are messages of gratitude.

One of those customers posted about Oppenheimer’s automated greeting on LinkedIn earlier this month.

“I casually replied about my wonderful experience with their services,” wrote Sai Charan Payyavula. “A few minutes later, I got an email alert. It was actually Matt who promptly replied on a Saturday evening. I had a nice conversation with him over e-mail and he was kind enough to add me to his LinkedIn network. As an afterthought, I realized that it feels so good when you are respected as a customer.”

Oppenheimer still has part of his heart in Boise.

About four years ago, in Remitly’s early days, he had an experience that has stuck with him. The company was running a sweepstakes for people who sent money during a contest period.

The winner would get two roundtrip tickets to or from India.

“We did a drawing and, no joke, the customer was from Boise, Idaho,” he said. “And I happened to be coming to Boise that weekend.”

He got the Remitly team to make a Publishers Clearinghouse-style super-sized check — but as a boarding pass.

“We show up at this guy’s door, and it was so awesome,” Oppenheimer said. “His wife had not been to the U.S. to visit him, and he was trying to save up for that ticket anyway.”


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