Franchising Underground Finance: Creative Remittances as Explained by Nia

By Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama, under the supervision of Kim Wilson

On a Wednesday afternoon near the Parque El Arbolito at the entrance to the center of Quito, we met Nia. She was the owner of a convenience store-internet café. Pasted to the cash register was a large “Banesco” logo. We had noted that many “tienditas” — corner stores — also displayed Banesco signage, usually in their windows, and further inquiries led us to understand that these stores were operating semi-underground money transfer businesses. When we asked about how the remittance services worked, shopkeepers were reluctant to respond. After many refusals to be interviewed we, at last, met Nia. She agreed to explain the entire process to us if we would wait a few hours. We agreed and later, returned to her store to engage in a long chat. Sitting in plastic chairs we huddled in the section of the cafe where clients could buy and eat sandwiches for just a dollar. Her two employees manned the internet café stations and the register, listening in and occasionally chiming into the conversation.

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