This New Startup is Helping Ease the Frustrations of Freelancers
The Philippines is one of the biggest freelancing markets in the world. In a 2019 study by digital payments platform Payoneer, the country ranked sixth largest in terms of earnings for freelancers, with about 35 percent growth year-on-year. We’re just behind the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Pakistan, and Ukraine.
Based on conservative estimates, there are about 1.5 to two million freelancers in the Philippines. These are people who might be full-time freelancers, or who do freelancing work on the side on top of their regular jobs. But as any freelancer will tell you, there are a myriad of issues attached to accepting freelance work, particularly if the person or organization hiring them is based overseas.
The pain points that freelancers face is what new startup EARNie is hoping to address. A cross-border banking and entrepreneurial support platform, EARNie is one of the two newest portfolio companies of global venture studio Talino Venture Labs. (The other is CodeyVerse).
Matt Cua is the president and COO of EARNie
“Traditionally, a company will set up Philippine operations and then hire (freelancers),” explains Matt Cua, president and COO of EARNie. “And then they will have maybe five to 10 employees or even 30 (people). But what if mag-isa ka lang? Let’s say you’re doing virtual assistant work, or you're doing audio transcribing or you're doing product management work. And you're the only one in the U.S. team na based in the Philippines?
“Filipinos are well known to be skillful,” he adds. “You have good English, you have skill, you have good people skills. We listen well. We do the work properly. We do not complain like other people. So they love us.”
The problem, Cua says, is that getting paid as a Filipino employee can be a hassle.
“You can be gainfully employed, but the Philippine financial system doesn't see you that way,” he says. “Even if you're an employee, baka magka-problema ka next month. And you have no more money. So banks see you as a very at-risk individual. Even though you're in contract for a year, banks will say, ‘Di naman nasa Pilipinas yan e.’ So those are the kinds of stuff that we want to solve.
Better, more favorable forex is the first of the advantages of the EARNie platform. It does this through BayaniPay, which is an online fintech platform that offers online banking and remittance services to global professionals.
“When freelancers are paid from the U.S., they have to go through the traditional banking system, like wire transfers or PayPal,” Cua says. “They get screwed over by (the foreign exchange rate). It might not be much, but it builds up, and we all know every cent counts.”
Second is speed of transmission. Cua says it typically takes about four banking days to transmit money overseas through traditional channels. Through EARNie, the process just takes about 24 hours or even less.
“The only reason it's 24 hours is because there are regulations,” Cua says. “Like, in case you mistakenly send the money, you can call us in 30 minutes and cancel.”
Third and perhaps most useful for freelancers is how EARNie is helping them with administrative requirements associated with the profession.
“The first thing that we're doing is helping freelancers get more clients in the U.S. by providing them with an invoice with a U.S. bank account,” Cua says. “If you’re a U.S. company and you have to pay a Filipino bank, it has to go through the international banking system. That’s an issue that companies in the US or in Europe prefer not to have.
“So if you're a freelancer, and you tell your employer, oh, I have a U.S. bank account, then it’s no problem,” he adds. “For them it’s like a local employee lang.”
Winston Damarillo of Talino Venture Labs at the EARNie and CodyVerse launch event
Cua says the company is further expanding its services by providing freelancers with what he calls “entity tools.” This takes the form of assistance to acquire such bureaucratic necessities such as Philhealth, SSS, PAG-IBIG, and even paying their taxes.
“A lot of freelancers are kind of under the radar,” Cua says. “We want to make them ‘over the radar.’ But in return, they enter the official financial system. For example, right now if you're a freelancer, and you're earning money from the U.S., if you go to a local bank, and apply for a home loan, they’re going to be asking you, ‘Where's your ITR? Where’s your certificate of employment?’ And then you'll be like, ‘Ummm…’”
EARNie has the advantage of being backed by Talino, which has helped build a portfolio of companies in the financial technology space, all of which are bridging the gap of financial inclusion. These include BayaniPay, Asenso, Unawa, Saphron, and Devcon, among others.
Cua, who was a recipient of Forbes’s 30 Under 30 citation in 2017, says the company is starting out small and hoping to onboard about 5,000 users to the EARNie platform within the year. The company is enticing freelancers with free Medicare for the first 1,000 signups.
The company is also looking for funding, but not much.
“We're not going to say no to funding, but it's limited,” Cua says. “We’re only raising enough to get to the point where we can get to breakeven, because of the remittance. People know remittance makes money. So even though we're charging lower, we're still going to be making money.”