by Isabelita Manalastas-Watanabe
Dare to DREAM, and then to ACHIEVE…
And Pray, Pray, Pray, very hard, in between.
I did all of these, and for the Prayer part, I had my “Prayer Angels” – my mother, my siblings, friends, colleagues. Was it not our Lord who said that if 2 or more of us pray together, He will be present there with us? And of course, He will be there to listen to our hearts’ desire!
While I was still based in Rome as Philippine National Bank’s Sector Head for Europe, Israel and Africa, we had an Italian lawyer who always made a point to tell Filipinos he meets, that we do not seem to have that entrepreneurial spirit which is clearly seen in other migrants, like the Chinese. He said that we Filipinos seem to be satisfied at being ordinary salaried workers, unlike Chinese people who, according to him, dare take the risk to set up their own businesses, and even help their fellow Chinese, lending them needed capital, etc., to let them succeed.
Dare to Dream
A Company for Migrants, by Migrants!
And why not? How many million Filipino migrant workers are out there in various countries in the world? Why not set up something that will benefit our “Bagong Bayani”?
Maybe start something small? And then end up doing big, like an OFW Bank? A bank that will cater to the needs of migrant workers and their families, “from cradle to grave”!
A Dream Come True
No, not yet – not an OFW Bank yet. Only a small, start-up company in Japan. But nevertheless, a dream come true. A company that stays true to its Mission and Vision – a company for migrants, run basically by migrants themselves. A company that is fast becoming the remittance company of choice by the migrant worker in Japan. (We are migrants ourselves, remember? So of course we will know other migrants’ needs and priorities). A company that can provide efficient, reliable, trust- worthy, speedy fund transfers from Japan to all parts of the world, starting with the Philippines, while being compliant to all regulatory requirements of its host country.
Was It That Easy?
To set up a remittance company in Japan? Yes, but not to secure a remittance license - absolutely not! I heard that in Hong Kong, if you want to set up a remittance company, you can submit your application documents on Day 1, and start operating right away even on Day 2, until and unless the regulators tell you that you do not qualify and should stop.
In Japan, the process can take months, even a year. Also, the overhead is much, much higher. The regulators want to ensure that we can really run a remittance business with no trouble from the law. As to overhead, this is also because of the very, very strong yen, which makes everything here in Japan much more expensive if you are converting your foreign currency like the US$ or the Euro, into Yen. Also because a lot of costs have to be incurred already even while just on your application process.
You have to have a physical office, and this means, you have to be paying rent already, even while waiting for “you-don’t-know-when” the license will come out. And then, there we need to hire the services of consultants in various fields, and their fees, depending on how senior they already are, and how competent they are, can set your company back by as much as JPY 40,000 (US$500) per hour, for their professional fees.
And many of us have heard of the term “shikikin” – that advance deposit to rent an apartment or an office. For renting a “mansion”, many apartment owners will require a deposit of a minimum of one month; 2-3 months is generally the norm.
But did you know that for an office, you may be required a minimum of twelve (12), sometimes even sixteen (16) months deposit? Simple math: If your office rent is JPY 800,000 a month, then 12 months shikikin will be JPY 9.6 million (US$120,000); if 16 months, then JPY 12.8 million (US$160,000). An amount that you cannot touch, not until you finally terminate your lease, and then maybe you cannot even refund it all, as any damage to the property will have to be debited from the shikikin, and any reconstruction to return the office to its original state when you first rented it will have to be done, at your expense.
And this is not all – the Japan regulators have you, the remittance clients, in their top priority to protect, not only your personal data, but also risks of your money being mishandled. So every non-bank like our company which has been granted that coveted remittance license permit needs to post a deposit of a minimum JPY 10.0 million (US$125,000) with the Tokyo Legal Affairs Bureau, as security and protection for your remittance transactions with us.
Looking for the capital for the company is most challenging. I did not know where and how to put up at least a million dollars capitalization, but my Prayer Angels did their magic again. Somehow, I was able to impress two big potential investors with a presentation on the potentials of the remittance market from Japan. And I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get commitment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from both, just after one presentation. They both think my business projections were achievable, and are backed up by solid data and research.
And if we are able to find such investors, and we have the right connections (especially in Japan), and we have a dedicated team of highly qualified professionals willing to stake their careers and their future with a start-up, a team committed to working very, very hard, we can never fail!
After months of hard work, back-stopped by one regular Japanese part-time staff, and one highly qualified Filipino staff, and of course the legal, audit, accounting, and tax consultants that have to be consulted along the way, the financial regulator asked our company to finally submit the application documents. And after a few months, a final face-to-face interview, and a couple of days after, the sweetest words I have ever heard, which made me jump (literally) with joy, almost hugging our legal consultant whom I was meeting with, when the call from FSA came that we got our license approval!
Imagine, we were a David, amongst all the Goliaths, and we made it!
But This is Just the Beginning…
On Saturday, April 30, 2011, the Rev. Father Bob Zarate, blessed SMTJ office, with our staff, staff’s families, friends, and various consultants in attendance.
On Sunday, May 1st, SMTJ opened for business. And the rest is history.
Five Years From Now
If Jeepney Press will still be here to serve the Pinoy community in Japan in 5 years’ time, I hope I can write again and make an update.
Will we have already set up that OFW Bank? Maybe! But surely, we would have served our migrant workers continuously for five years. Our staff would have benefited from their hard work with our profit sharing. Our migrant worker-investors who have invested in the company with their hard-earned money, would have probably already doubled their investment by this time. And we will already be a global player, not only servicing Filipino remittances, but other migrants in Japan (and worldwide, we hope!) as well – the Chinese, the Brazilians, the Vietnamese, the Indonesians, the Peruvians…
After 5 years, ask us when our invitation will come out, for the blessing of our own OFW Bank. We have to send one and all!
Isn’t it nice to dream?
I dared to dream… and I know I can achieve. My family, my friends, my colleagues at work – all continue to pray. With a lot of hard work and dedication, and continued prayers from my Prayer Angels, and without losing grip on our Mission and Vision, we can never fail!
Isabelita “Lita” Manalastas-Watanabe, is the founder and President of Speed Money Transfer Japan K.K.