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Western Union capitalizes on mobile payments boom with new money transfer app

Western Union has its sights set on the growing mobile payments sector, announcing the expansion of its money transfer application to customers in Canada.

The Western Union Money Transfer app, already available in the U.S., now gives Canadian customers access to the financial brand’s intricate money transfer infrastructure, allowing them to make global payments through Western Union anytime and anywhere. Users will be able to make payments to more than 200 countries and territories through the app.

“The expected majority of customers are new to our network,” said Jocelyn David, director of digital business and product marketing at Western Union Canada. “They skew young, banked and tech-savvy.

“We believe that the large-scale adoption of our digital service is a testament to our customer service philosophy. Certain customer segments will never be comfortable dealing online, and prefer to deal face-to-face and in cash, while others prefer the speed and convenience of a digital platform.”

In good company
Western Union Money Transfer will also allow Canadian customers to check current exchange rates and fees, view a record of past and pending transactions and maintain access to 24/7 customer service. The application’s interface draws largely from its existing digital presence.

The app is the latest chapter in a narrative of digital innovation for a financial services company that spent its heyday with a monopolistic hold on the telegram industry. Since then, the company has refocused its business around the necessity of global payments in an increasingly borderless, global economy.

Mobile payments are a natural extension of Western Union’s current business model, and the app is likely meant to streamline the experiences of Western Union’s existing customer base­— Canadians of diverse backgrounds who need to send money to areas of the world with less developed financial systems— while simultaneously providing a point of entry for new customers.

The mobile payments sector has been a hot topic of discussion lately, with services such as the PayPal-backed Venmo experiencing so much success that banks including Citigroup and Bank of America have banded together to combat the loss in market share with developing their own peer-to-peer mobile payments app.

And while peer-to-peer mobile payment apps such as Venmo, Chase QuickPay and the Square-backed Cash app are steadily building a subscriber base, the comparatively marginal success of newer digital wallets means that Western Union’s bet on peer-to-peer transactions puts it on the right side of the trend.

The app will allow Canadians to leverage Western Union’s services anytime and anywhere

Forward thinking
While mobile peer-to-peer transactions are experiencing organic growth, the success of digital wallets will be determined by the maneuvering of the existing financial services infrastructure.

Pharmacy chain Walgreens became the first retailer to integrate Android Pay into its loyalty program, underscoring the need for other marketers to roll out mobile payment solutions compatible with all operating systems or risk alienating a large base of non-iOS customers (see story).

Mastercard recently announced the release of a new proprietary API program that allows its partners to experiment with new technologies and interfaces in a move that could be a bellweather for the rest of the financial industry’s flock to the mobile payments sector (see story).

“We strongly believe that digital is the way forward not just for us, but for the entire financial services industry,” Ms. David said. “That’s why we have invested heavily in digital in the past few years.

“To date, we’ve got a digital presence in 37 countries, cross-border expertise born of our many decades of experience in the money transfer business, and online presence is key to our growth strategy,” she said. “That said, omnichannel is more than digital. A true omnichannel approach means serving customers in keeping with their cultural and economic preferences.

“In Canada, increasingly, that means being online and on mobile – but for certain customer segments in Canada and around the world, that also means maintaining a physical infrastructure so that customers who prefer to can deal face-to-face, and develop a relationship with their agent.”