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Western Union rolls out SMS notifications, mobile marketing campaigns

Financial services giant Western Union has launched initiatives to interact with and engage its consumers with SMS-based notifications and mobile marketing campaigns.

The company tapped mobile messaging aggregator and mobile commerce services provider Sybase 365 to power the programs. Sybase 365 delivers SMS-based messages to Western Union loyalty card members who send money transfers from nine countries worldwide, including Belgium, Denmark, France, Gabon, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Britain.

“Western Union is evolving from a transaction-focused company to one that’s centered on the consumer,” said Christopher Dean, associate of digital ventures at Western Union, Greenwood Village, CO. “Three years ago, Western Union didn’t have one consumer metric—today we have a database with information on senders and receivers of money transfers for each of the 202 countries in which we operate.

“This database has really enabled us to marry our research efforts in consumer insights with behavioral data and raise the bar around understanding of our consumers around the world,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the consumer’s needs front-and-center and use that reasoning to inform every decision.

“Autonotification offers convenience for our consumers—in their preferred language.”

The Western Union Co. specializes in global payment services, especially money transfers. Together with its Vigo, Orlandi Valuta and Pago Facil-branded payment services, Western Union provides consumers with ways to send and receive money worldwide, as well as send payments and buy money orders.

Western Union, Vigo and Orlandi Valuta operate through a combined network of more than 400,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories.

In 2008, The Western Union Company completed 188 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving $74 billion of principal between consumers, and 412 million consumer-to-business transactions.

Sybase 365, a subsidiary of Sybase Inc., specializes in enabling mobile information services for carriers, financial institutions and enterprises.  Its provides its customers offerings in SMS, MMS and GRX interoperability, mobile commerce services, text messaging, mobile marketing and content-delivery services. 

Sybase 365 processes more than one billion messages per day, reaching 800 operators and 3.4 billion subscribers worldwide.

SMS autonotification
SMS notifications are available in the senders’ preferred languages, including Swedish, Dutch, Danish and French.
When consumers send money, they can receive an SMS message confirming that the funds have been paid out.

The service will be extended to Western Union Gold Card members in six additional countries by year-end. The Unitied States is also on the road map, but the service will probably not roll out there until next year.

“Prior to launching the service, the sender or receiver had to check Western Union’s Web site or call a Western Union customer service center to inquire about the status of a money transfer,” Mr. Dean said. “In fact, 23 percent of calls to Western Union’s call centers are inquiries about the status of a money transfer.

“Autonotification delivers convenience and peace of mind to consumers, helping build a stronger emotional connection to the Western Union brand and drive return visits to the Western Union franchise,” he said. “In addition, we expect the service to significantly reduce the volume of status inquiries going to our call centers.

“And, autonotification ensures real-time delivery of money transfers, and if there’s a problem with a transaction, with autonotification, the sender knows right away.”

Currently, the target demographic for autonotification is the more than 11 million Gold Card consumers worldwide who are sending money to their friends and loved ones with Western Union.

In the future, the target demographic for autonotification is anyone and everyone who uses Western Union, including senders and receivers of money transfers and non-Gold Card-users – a potential of 500,000-plus people a day.

The mobile numbers of those who are enrolled in the autonotification service also are now part of Western Union’s database of consumer information.

“This information helps us understand how, when and why people are using our services and enables us to better target our services to them,” Mr. Dean said. “In addition, we can use this information to send marketing offers and coupons to users tailored to their needs.

“For example, if a sender prefers to do all of his transactions online, we can email him a code to enter at checkout,” he said.

SMS-based mobile marketing
There are now more than 4 billion mobile phones in use worldwide, and reaching and engaging customers effectively through their mobile device is a priority for Western Union.

Sybase 365 also will deliver SMS-based messages to Western Union consumers who have opted-in to receive offers such as coupons, promotional codes and additional information on products and services.

By furthering its agreement with Sybase 365, Western Union hopes to be able to bring more value to its consumers by offering discounts and special offers directly on their mobile phones.  

The target demographic for the mobile marketing effort currently is Kenyans in Britain who send money home and whose receivers are M-PESA subscribers, as well as Kenyans who receive funds from abroad.

The target demographic for mobile marketing in the future is senders and receivers of mobile money transfers in the countries where Western Union has launched services, incluidng the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia and countries in the Middle East and Africa.

“Because of the convenience factor associated with autonotification and mobile marketing, we hope the services bring new customers to the brand,” Mr. Dean said. “The service also has great potential for other Western Union services as well: an SMS when someone’s bill posts to the biller; when a debit card is topped up, etcetera.”

Global mobile initiatives
This agreement builds on an alliance with Western Union announced earlier this year, where Sybase 365 was selected to participate in Western Union’s Digital Vendor Program with its mWallet and mBanking Platforms.

Facilitating mobile finance initiatives in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, such programs are designed to help build the mobile finance ecosystem.

“Western Union uses best-in-class vendors for all parts of our mobile, digital and traditional channels,” Mr. Dean said. “Sybase 365 is a global partner for our messaging and interconnect services to ensure reliable communication to our customers for both notification messaging and campaign and non-campaign marketing efforts across all carriers for countries we do business in.

“This is no small feat,” he said.

Currently, Western Union has agreements in place with seven major carriers worldwide: Smart Communications and Globe Telecom in the Philippines; Vodafone in Britain; Safaricom in Kenya; Zain Group in Africa; Orascom Telecom in the Middle East; and Maxis Communications in Malaysia.

“Sybase must build systems that work with each of these individual mobile operators and with all of the various handsets these operators support,” Mr. Dean said. “Sybase 365 must ensure that an SMS message is viewable on handsets of all types and price points.”