IMPA interviewed ShipMoney’s CEO St. Ostrow on crew welfare.
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IMPA: We talk to ShipMoney founder Stuart Ostrow about the driving force behind the business, how it’s helped seafarers in times of crisis and the role digital payment solutions can play in crew welfare.
The intersection between tech, business, and innovation is all the more valuable when the sum of those parts achieves a good greater than its constituents. In the case of ShipMoney, that’s most certainly the case.
The company’s cornerstone, and indeed its reason for being, derives from its founders’ past experience pioneering the development of crew payroll card programs for the cruise industry. The subsequent industry-wide adoption of digital crew payment solutions gave rise to an evolution that sees ShipMoney now provide a platform for international payments to crew members, vendors, suppliers, and agents. Throughout that evolution, the mantra ‘it’s always about the crew’ has been self-evident axiomatic, and talking to its founder Stuart Ostrow, it’s not hard to see why. He is effusive when it comes to the role crew play and the value they bring to the industry.
Indeed, he begins the conversation by citing the example of a Nepalese crew member he once met who worked on board a cruise liner and whose ‘sole purpose in life was basically working to take care of his family members.’
St. Ostrow: “That story really resonated with me about the sacrifices that the crew members make and the critical importance of what we do. They’re out there working seven days a week, 10 hours a day, maybe they’re lucky once in a while if they can to get off of a ship. And they’re a critical component of worldwide trade.
St. Ostrow: “It’s our mission basically to support and help them to the extent we can in the sector slices of the industry that we serve. So we’re not perfect by far, but I know that we really care as an organization and I know we really try. I believe that deeply across the board because it exists within our company.
St. Ostrow: “And I think that basic belief exists within our company in terms of taking care of the people that pay our bills because they’re out there working hard to take care of their families.”
IMPA: That guiding principle has shone through in recent years, firstly with the pandemic and then the conflict in Ukraine. In both instances, seafarers’ professional and personal lives have been disrupted in ways not experienced by shore-based workforces. For its part, ShipMoney has sought to provide support and relief to crews who are captives of a situation not of their own making.
St. Ostrow: “The pandemic caught the cruise industry, for example, off guard, and it was monumentally hard for them to wind down and wind back up again. But we played our part. We provided support with some of the funding programs we did with them, and we waived our remittance fees admittance during the pandemic for eight months so that they could help the people who were on board to basically get funds home.”
IMPA: That level of support has extended to crew and seafarers who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine and underlined further the need to provide support irrespective of the situation. As Ostrow explains, in a period where payments to Russian organizations had been shut down, ensuring that crew from both sides of the conflict were paid was a humanitarian issue and not a political one.
St. Ostrow: “These are folks that are on a ship,” he says., “All they’re doing basically is working hard to try and get money to their family members. This has nothing to do with sanctions. And our pay partners recognized that and really went to bat for us and helped us support both the Ukrainians and the Russians to the extent we could legally, which we still do today.”
IMPA: As ShipMoney has developed as a platform, it has continued to benefit crews from across the world, and in particular those that live in very remote areas. It’s often the case that for seafarers from parts of the Philippines or Indonesia, for example, no banking infrastructure exists. In that case, ShipMoney will allow cash pickups where that’s applicable.
St. Ostrow: “There’s also companion cards where you can actually just transfer the money from card to card,” explains Rupert Fee. “And these types of things give a range of different ways of managing your money. That then allows people from remote places, depending on what’s available in their home country and in their town and village, to be able to access that money or for their family to be able to benefit from that at the same time.
St. Ostrow: “The product wasn’t set out that way, but its evolution has been based on seafarers’ requirements and what they need, and as a result has given financial inclusion to people from various places around the world which are more remote.”
IMPA: One of the major issues seafarers face is challenging their status as forgotten members of the supply chain, even though they are a vital component of global trade. Digital payment platforms go some way to addressing that, allowing them to control and manage their finances – and in so doing giving them dignity in the process.
That dignity is so important. It should not be forgotten that the vast majority of seafarers work the job they do to support families. And though it would be disingenuous to suggest that the majority would rather do something else, there is no escaping the fact that it can be a lonely and isolating experience. Organizations like ShipMoney are helping to change that, and in so doing highlighting the need for greater support and recognition of crews on board vessels. It is proof, if it were needed, that through innovation and technology, we can champion seafarers’ rights and welfare, ensuring they receive the respect and support they deserve.