Former Somali refugee Ismail Ahmed is a rising star on London’s lucrative fintech scene. He is the founder and CEO of the seven-year-old money-transfer startup WorldRemit Ltd., which reportedly raised $145 million and lets users send cash to more than 142 countries.

Ahmed told Bloomberg Africa is the British company’s market, with transfers to countries like Kenya and South Africa accounting for more than $52.6 million of WorldRemit’s revenue in 2016. Bloomberg reported the London startup is now set to offer its services through Android Pay as well, Google’s digital wallet. These days, innovation in the remittance sector is set to redefine global financial services, smashing systematic borders that once separated Silicon Valley from Nairobi.  

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Remittance, when migrants and expats send money to people in their home country, is at the crux of burgeoning economies around the world. The World Bank estimated $429 billion flowed to developing countries in 2016. “In some poor countries, like Somalia and Haiti, remittances make up more than a quarter of national income,” Fast Company reported. And it's not just small, developing nations that benefit from remittance.

India, home to a $1 trillion economy ranked by NASDAQ as one of the world’s fastest growing, also happens to be one of the world’s leading recipients of remittance. The World Bank estimated the Indian economy received $62.7 billion through remittances in 2016.

However, sending cash home is still expensive and time-consuming. On average, it costs of 7.45 percent of the total amount for each transfer, the World Bank said. For Ahmed, overcoming that challenge was personal. “My family had lost everything,” he told Bloomberg. “So now I became the one who sent money back.”

Ahmed isn’t the only entrepreneur developing cheaper alternatives for traveling workers. Startups like Azimo Ltd. and MoneyGram International Inc. also aim to upend the way people think about international money transfers. Azimo CEO Michael Kent recently told TechCrunch the company is looking for new ways to offer transfer services directly through the Facebook messaging app.

Meanwhile, startup Remitly Inc. of Seattle, which reportedly has around 300 employees and 30,000 cash pick-up locations around the world, recently announced the company is expanding to serve European markets too. No matter how you look at it, it’s clear to see the global remittance industry is booming.

For now, most competitors rely on adding more accessible outlets for traditional banking infrastructures. But as the remittance industry expands, industry experts are looking to cryptocurrency technologies like blockchain to diversify services beyond cash withdrawals. “As blockchain technology matures,” analyst Talie Baker wrote in an Aite Group report about remittance fintech. “It has true disruptive potential to bring the cost of remittances to nearly zero and facilitate instant secure payments anywhere in the world.”

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