Western Union is one of the leading money transfer companies in the world, offering an easy and convenient way to send money to families and friends almost anywhere on earth. With around 445,000 Agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe, a great deal of the company’s success is based on the trading relationships it has established over many years.
Western Union takes pride in being close to its consumers and in its alliances with Agents. Through its Agents, Western Union speaks its consumers’ languages, lives in their neighbourhoods and shares their cultures, playing a significant part in their lives. In the UK Western Union offers its services in cooperation with a growing network of retailers and is looking to grow its network still further.
The Grocery Trader talks to Rajiv Garodia, Regional Vice President for Western Europe. Rajiv and his team are based in London.
The Grocery Trader – Rajiv, can you sum up for our readers what Western Union does?
Western Union does the “classic” money transfer service through Agent locations, but also via mobile payments, online through westernunion.com or through bank accounts. To give you an idea about our network, Western Union processes over 1 million transactions every day. And each of these interactions also means that an opportunity is created for someone somewhere in the world. According to our consumer research, currently 85% of Western Union’s consumers are working migrants seeking opportunity abroad.
GT – How is the money transferred? How quickly does it reach the person at the other end?
The money is available for collection within minutes from completing the transfer, depending on time zones and opening hours on the receiver’s side. Consumers fill out a simple ‘To Send Money’ form specifying the country and beneficiary, and after handing over the principal and fee to an Agent, the Money Transfer Control Number is produced and money is ready for collection on the other side of the world!
GT – Why would a customer go to a Western Union location rather than send money via a bank?
A bank can only send money to another bank. We can do cash to cash, account to account or account to cash. Many of Western Union’s consumers either do not have bank accounts or are sending money to people, relatives or friends who do not have bank accounts. And we also offer additional convenience; many of our locations – particularly those in the retail sector – are open well beyond traditional working hours. Some are even open 24 hours a day, including Saturdays and Sundays.
GT – What is the make up of your consumer base?
The majority are people who move overseas to work and send money home. However our consumers include anyone who has a need to send money quickly, for example in an emergency or for gifting.
We have a number of marketing initiatives to show how our services can meet the needs of a wider range of consumers, for instance encouraging people to send money as gifts via Western Union at times like Christmas and Easter.
We have a diverse range of new channels and products, such as online money transfer, cash-to-account and account-to-cash, and now mobile money transfer. Some of these, especially Internet based solutions, are best placed to meet the needs of, say, a parent who wants to send money to a child backpacking around Asia on their gap year, or someone wanting to send a gift abroad.
GT – You seem to be very proud of your Agents’ network. What is so special about it?
Our agents typically have a deep understanding of the communities they serve. This comes from the long tenure and experience within our category, and very often the fact that they live in these communities themselves.
GT – How do you integrate new Agents in your network? Will you put your own employees in stores or do you have to train up the existing store staff?
The good news is, there is very little technical integration required, once the store or network is set up with the Western Union® money transfer technology and the existing store staff – we refer to them as Front Line Associates – have received the appropriate training. The training is web-based and takes a couple of hours, as the software is very intuitive and based on zero-training principles. The compliance aspect is a vital part of the training, and Western Union is renowned for best-in-class AML compliance programs. We also provide branding, in store POS and marketing support, looking constantly at how to improve the customer experience, in order to make transactions faster and more efficient, for example by introducing the Western Union® Gold Card to reward loyalty and minimise paperwork.
GT – What characterises the UK as a market for Western Union’s services?
The UK is central to our business in just the same way it is central to the global economy. It is a matured economy and still attractive to migrants, who are key in our customer base. The environment is challenging but business friendly, and the necessary infrastructure and quality human resources are available.
GT – How many agents do you work with in the UK?
GT – What kinds of outlets provide Western Union services in the UK?
Legislation in the UK allows us to partner with businesses outside the traditional financial institutions.
There is a wide variety of retail channels and businesses that offer the service in the UK. We have signed some big retail chains, including Co-op Travel and pharmacy groups, as well as a large variety of well established and trusted local retailers. These could be newsagents, pharmacies, ethnic food stores, travel agents or bureaux de change – essentially, anywhere that our consumers may visit frequently. We have recently signed with Martin McColl, the UK’s largest independent retailer of newspapers and convenience stores.
Consumers have different requirements and expectations based on their needs, and we therefore try to match that with a diverse network. Some may prefer to use a well-known national brand name, whereas some will prefer the individual service they are offered by their local independent retailer.
GT – Are you looking for more UK retailers to become agents? What kinds of retailers are you looking to recruit? What POS equipment etc does a retailer need to have in place?
The market still shows huge opportunities and we therefore need Agents to facilitate this potential growth. Agents need to have a retail location, and ideally – but not essentially – a PC.
GT – What benefits are there for the retailer from being a Western Union Agent?
First of all, the retailer gets commission from each transaction, but the benefits for the retailer go beyond that. Increased footfall is by far the single biggest reason why retailers sign up as Western Union Agents, especially in the corporate arena. Our research shows that money transfer is the primary reason for visiting the store for 4 out of 5 customers, and over three quarters of Western Union customers purchase additional items while there.
GT – How do you work with major multiple retailer clients to maximise the sales opportunity?
We make it our business to ensure a good business product fit with the client’s existing product portfolio.
GT – What equipment and signage do retailers get as part of the Western Union® package?
We provide a standard starter pack for every new Agent. This contains all the necessary sales collateral, basic point-of-sale (POS) materials and merchandising items to get them started. We can then have additional POS, based on space availability and the need of the particular Agent. POS is a key driver and an area in which we are sensitive to our client’s in-store branding policy. We also offer a web based transactional software (WUPOS), which could be either a standalone solution or fully integrated with the agent’s existing platform.
GT – What are the steps to becoming a Western Union agent?
Anyone who is already in business can either email wurslondonsalessupportuk@ westernunion.com or call the business development team on 0208 563 6614, who will be happy to help. We pride ourselves on our thorough enrolment process and registration.
Tel: 0208 563 6614