Delivering digital solutions at scale in developing countries
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Western Union Joins Mobile Remittance Market
Western Union has been so slow to respond to the market impact of mobile-phone based remittances, the company risks losing decades of market leadership in the money transfer business. The recent announcement of a partnership with the GSM Association (GSMA) may be an attempt to catch MasterCard, which announced a similar initiative at the 3GSM conference in February. According to Reuters, Western Union and GSMA will help operators let customers transfer funds from a mobile phone to a Western Union location and vice versa, and enable mobile-to-mobile transfers. A pilot program of the service will be available by mid-2008 and Western Union expects to see a material contribution to revenues in 3-5 years.
Western Union’s slow rollout of a mobile remittance program opened the door for companies like Visa, MasterCard, banks, and local service providers. Mobile-to-mobile money transfer programs are already generating revenue for more nimble players like Smart in the Philippines and Safaricom in Kenya, among others. By 2012, the number of recipients of international remittances could reach 1.5 billion and the size of the remittances market could total US$1 trillion, according to GSMA.
Non-technology companies like Western Union are being drawn into the telecommunications market by the increasing utility of mobile phones. The GSMA, its members and other mobile technology companies will benefit from new partnerships with global non-technology companies like Western Union. They provide valuable assets such as global brand and new services that can now be delivered via mobile technology. Association with a strong brand like Western Union can allay customer fears associated with accessing services and executing transactions via mobile phones. And, the added services present opportunities for additional revenue sources for all involved partners.