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Western Union expands Mobile Vendor Program to spread money-transfer services

Money-transfer giant the Western Union Co. is extending the reach and accessibility of its money-transfer services with mobile finance initiatives in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Western Union has certified two participants in its Mobile Vendor Program, India-based mChek and South Africa-based Fundamo, and has selected Comviva, a mobile service provider in emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, to participate in the program. Western Union announced the launch of the program, formerly called the Digital Vendor Program, at the GSMA Mobile Money Summit in Barcelona, Spain, in June of last year.

Mobile Commere Daily’s Dan Butcher interviewed Khalid Fellahi, head of mobile transaction services at Western Union, Denver. Here is what he had to say:

What is the strategy behind the partnership between Western Union and mChek, Fundamo and Comviva? What does it mean for the mobile money-transfer services ecosystem?
Western Union announced its Mobile Vendor Program in June of 2009. The purpose of the Mobile Vendor Program is to extend the reach of Western Union services to mobile finance initiatives around the globe.

By certifying mobile banking or mobile wallet vendors, we believe we can reduce integration costs and accelerate go-to-market activities for banks and mobile operators by creating standard technical deployments.

We have three other vendors in the program as well—YellowPepper in Latin America, Utiba in Singapore and Sybase 365 in the U.S.

With these vendors on board—proven experts in their fields who are already offering successful mobile financial service initiatives in their markets—we believe we can introduce mobile money transfer services in more places more quickly.

What challenges can Western Union Mobile Vendors address for wireless carriers?
Successful mobile money service offerings typically include three service providers working together in a single “mobile finance ecosystem.”

Participants include mobile network operators, with well-known consumer brands and large mobile subscriber bases; financial institutions, with the legal and regulatory authority to store and hold money; and mobile platform providers—often called m-wallet or m-banking platforms—like mChek, Comviva and Fundamo, as well as others in our program such as Utiba, YellowPepper and Sybase 365, who are capable of managing account interaction between the consumer handset, the wireless network and the financial institution.

Western Union connects into this ecosystem, providing money transfer capability under a global brand with proven speed and reliability.

What is the target demographic of this initiative?
The most important element for us is to follow the consumer’s preference, and it certainly appears that the convenience provided by Mobile Money is appealing to many consumers.

We want to make sure they have access to Western Union services through that channel as well as the option to send or receive money in cash or from their bank account online, for example.

The target demographic for Western Union in introducing mobile financial services is the consumer who has a mobile phone but may not have access to a bank account.

In developing economies, the mobile channel can bring those services to them.

At the same time, in more developed economies where there is a higher level of banked consumers, the mobile channel can be a convenient way to send money through the Western Union network, either by accessing a bank account or a mobile wallet.

It’s like having a virtual Western Union Agent location or your bank in your pocket.

What is the current state of mobile money transfer services? What do you expect over the course of 2010 and beyond?
Currently mobile financial services are taking off in select “hot spots” around the world like Africa and Asia.
Success stories in Kenya are starting to spread to other countries now, and most industry experts predict the phenomenon of managing your finances on a mobile to continue to grow.

For Western Union, we have partnerships for pilots with mobile operators, particularly in Asia and Africa, but we have now moved to a new phase beyond pilots in our strategy and we’re rolling out the infrastructure to enable commercial Mobile Money both in our physical agent networks as well as on our platforms.