In our fast-paced world where more and more of us are living, working and travelling abroad, moving money internationally in a way that’s fast, reliable and convenient is more important than ever, whether it’s to buy goods and services, to pay employees or to send money home to family.
In particular, the rapid growth of migrant workers is driving the increase in money transfers across borders. United Nations figures reveal that more than 232 million people were living outside their home country in 2013, while according to the World Bank, global remittances will reach $681 billion this year.
A Fortune 500 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Western Union has been helping people to transfer funds for more than 140 years. And today, in response to these trends, its business is evolving more rapidly than ever as it handles over 130 currencies, and moves more than $150 billion annually.
People expect a greater variety of payment options. That’s why Western Union now provides payment facilities through mobile apps, mobile wallets and online, via more than 100,000 ATMs and kiosks, plus a network of over 500,000 agent locations, from Andorra to Zimbabwe. Digital transfers are growing rapidly, but the “bricks and mortar” option is still essential for millions of customers.
Western Union’s vice president for Northern Europe, Massimiliano Alvisini, points out that the provision of both cash and electronic payments is a major attraction to customers. “From the UK, for instance, you can send money to more than 200 countries and territories that can be picked up as cash or paid into a bank account in over 50 countries,” he says.
Not everyone has a mobile wallet or even a bank account – many people still prefer cash
“People can transfer money when they’re in the office via our digital channel, or they can do so on the way home or when they’re shopping, thanks to our retail locations on the high street, one of the biggest networks in the UK,” says Mr Alvisini. “There’s also the opportunity to use our mobile channel, particularly when sending money to countries in Africa, which have leapfrogged to mobile technologies. At the same time we also have a bank account channel, which means that it’s possible to send money directly to a bank account. For us the customer experience is critical, whether it be retail, online or mobile.”
Mr Alvisini is also very much aware that with customers’ differing needs a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. “Not everyone has a mobile wallet or even a bank account – many people still prefer cash,” he says.
Speed and efficiency are also important, Western Union’s vice president for eCommerce, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Ganesh Krishnamoorthi, points out. “I work in Europe and send money home to India,” he says. “It’s good to know that, if I had to transfer funds to my family because of an emergency, the money would arrive in minutes with Western Union.” Tracking is another advantage.
Western Union is also working with other providers in order to reach an even wider audience. In January, for instance, it announced that it would offer the Apple Pay mobile payment solution at its flagship location and selected agent locations in the United States. The company already has relationships with 17 active mobile network operators in 14 countries.
Despite the increase in the numbers of people travelling and working in different countries, harmonisation between national systems is still a long way off.
As an industry leader, and with agent locations in over 200 countries and territories, Western Union is focused on implementing strong compliance programmes designed to detect and prevent money laundering and other criminal activities globally.
It added significantly to its compliance organisation throughout 2014, for instance, growing it to more than 2,000 people and has invested over $100 million in state-of-the-art compliance controls. “This improves security and offers peace of mind, whether you’re sending or receiving money,” says Mr Alvisini.
Alongside individuals, organisations, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are also benefitting from Western Union’s global reach, coupled with its constant innovation. Offering services in over 30 countries with more than 100,000 clients around the world, Western Union Business Solutions, an operating division of Western Union, is a global financial services partner for organisations engaged in international business. It provides multi-currency cash management and payment services for businesses of all sizes that operate internationally, many of which are SMEs.
SMEs are increasingly internationalising. According to Oxford Economics this year, nearly half will generate over 20 per cent of their revenues outside their home country with the number of SMEs that operate in six or more countries increasing by 129 per cent. In support, Western Union Business Solutions provides foreign exchange risk management services that improve cash flow and increase profitability, in addition to efficient and scalable global payment products. Dedicated relationship managers help SMEs and larger businesses with cross-border payments.
“As well as SME importers and exporters, we also have clients in key verticals,” says Tony Crivelli, vice president Western Union Business Solutions UK and Europe. “These include universities and colleges that might be receiving funds from international students or sending professors abroad for assignments. Pensions and payroll providers are also important partners who we work with to provide international payment services for their customers.”
Thanks to Western Union Business Solutions’ global reach, its business customers can send money around the world quickly, easily and cost effectively. “Other networks have numerous correspondent banks involved in the payment process, and along the way service charges and fees are deducted. These can be significant for smaller payments,” says Mr Crivelli. “So we’ve developed GlobalPay, a system that interfaces with our own network, and allows SMEs to send a payment in full and on time without expensive banking fees.”
Western Union Business Solutions has also helped more than 700 NGOs to send $2.3billion around the world. “Western Union NGO Global Pay enables NGOs to make international account-to-cash payments,” says Mr Crivelli. “They’re able to do this from one platform because we bring the Western Union Business Solutions network and the Western Union cash disbursement network together.”
It’s another example of how this long-established company is innovating and using its global reach to transfer funds quickly, reliably and conveniently in the form that suits customers.