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Western Union takes money transfer a notch higher.

For African customers of Western Union, there is good news on the horizon. To satisfy your needs in a constantly changing world, the company is setting up banks in Western Europe, with longer opening hours, so that customers whose 9am-5pm work routine prevents them from sending money during normal working hours, can still do so after work. Baffour Ankomah reports.

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Western Union, one of the leading global money transfer providers, has taken the competition a step higher by opening the first branch of its bank in Vienna, its European headquarters. Two hundred such branches will open in Western Europe in the next five years. Christina Gold, president of Western Union Financial Services (WUFS), flew from the company's global headquarters in Denver, Colorado, USA, to perform the opening ceremony on 29 June.

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The aim of the Western Union International Bank, Gold said, was not to compete with traditional retail banks or with the company's current business model of using a network of agents who deal with its core money transfer business, but to provide basic financial services specifically aimed at the company's main consumers who are recent immigrants in the European Union.

The company's core consumers are immigrant workers. Sadly, because of their stiff 9am-5pm working hours, they are not always able to send money home during normal working hours. The bank will, therefore, fill the void by opening till 7 pm or even 8pm in countries where national laws permit it, so that immigrant workers can still go there after work and send money to their loved ones back home. For African customers, however, the great disappointment is that Western Union does not plan to open any banks in Africa. Business will still be done as usual through the existing network of agents whose opening times are typically 9am-5pm.

According to Hikmet Ersek, chairman of the new bank's supervisory board and senior vice president of Western Union's operations in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa, the company hopes to move the traditional cash-to-cash money transfer business into the future by launching an internet-based money transfer service in several countries across Europe.

"This online service will make it possible to carry out transactions via the internet at any time, using credit cards or Western Union pre-paid cards," he said. "Experiences in the USA and in our European test market, Great Britain, have shown that this online business also leads to the acquisition of new costumers, such as second or third generation immigrants or customers making emergency payments."

The new bank, he disclosed, would offer simple products such as pre-paid cards. "Customers can load these cards in advance with a certain amount of money. Later, they can pay for goods or services with the card, and the amount is then debited immediately, enabling them to keep track of their finances and to monitor the balance remaining on the card," Ersek explained. This, he said, was in keeping with the company's slogan--"we send so much more than money".

"Of course, we know that it takes time to build up a bank," he conceded, "but we will continue to complement our traditional money transfer services with strategic long-term additions to our portfolio."

Founded in 1851 as the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Co, Western Union (the change of name happened in 1856) is now the flagship business of its parent company, First Data. Along with its subsidiary, Orlandi Valuta, the business has grown to 225,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries and territories. Cindy Nageli-du Pont, Western Union's corporate communications manager based in Vienna, told New African that two branches of the new bank will open in the Austrian capital this year, and eight more will open in the German speaking areas straddling the German-Austrian border. For ease of transactions and to instil confidence in consumers, the bank's staff will include a high percentage of ethnic employees who speak the diverse languages of their core customers.
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Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:659
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