WU Exec: Cash ‘still important’ amidst digitisation

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Daniel Webber
Daniel Webber
Founder & CEO
Daniel is Founder and CEO at FXcompared and has numerous years of experience in the international finance world, especially within the media, technology and property sectors. Daniel is passionate… Read more
  • As fintechs and governments push for a cashless economy, remittance brand Western Union seems to be doing the opposite, observers say
  • The remittance giant has spent countless hours on studying new technology to improve its services but maintains that its focus is on the consumer
  • Most of Western Union’s customers are not tech savvy

Despite the popularity of mobile-based money transfers, a Western Union executive says that cash still plays a significant role in the global economy. Digitisation efforts are happening around the world. In the Middle East, several nations are pushing for a cashless economy and fintechs are doing the same. Observers note that Western Union is doing the opposite.

While the remittance giant has kept abreast with new technology to improve its speed and its overseas transfer rates, Western Union’s APAC General Manager Molly Shea told Tech Wire Asia that: “Cash is still important and still plays a significant role in the global economy, and people who say that cash will be gone overnight should look at that statistic.”

Ten years ago, 85% of transactions were done through cash or cheque, according to Shea and that number has only went down by 2% as of 2019. However, this doesn’t mean that the remittance brand is not interested in mobile-based transactions. The company, Shea notes, has spent a lot of time and resources to improve its mobile app services and has even started working on artificial intelligence, but even if these are being done, the brand is still in touch with what consumers want.

“We’re present in more than 200 countries and territories, sending billions of dollars, in hundreds of currencies, to banks accounts around the world — but at the end of the day, the emphasis is on the customer”, Shea added.

Based on a study done by Western Union, the largest population of people who transfer money internationally through their remittance centres are not tech savvy and favour sending money to family and friends through traditional means.

The company is proud of its agent locations because it bridges the gap between the older generation and the younger one. Digitisation can be a challenge for customers 50 and above, reports note, and WU wants to make sure that they are not left fumbling with their mobile phones to make their payments.

The brand has a worldwide presence, but for those looking into using its digital transfers, they’d find that they are only available in 50 countries. This is still impressive, according to experts. They note, however, that Western Union’s retail presence is more massive than its online operations. The company currently has over 500,000 agent locations based on recent data and many of these places were built over a hundred year period. The remittance giant has been in business for over 160 years.

The company is keen on improving its tech, reports note, but its executives have a laser focus on WU remittance centres as they are the go-to places for millions of individuals who send money to family members on a regular basis.

“If you think about it, it’s all about the customer’s needs. Customers are constantly looking for new options to send money — cash to cash, cash to bank, kiosk to cash, and so on”, explained Shea. In her 24 years at Western Union, Molly Shea has seen the growth of options for consumers. This fact, observers say, has driven the company to continue innovating. Options have grown exponentially through the years thanks to fintechs that now serve millions of customers per year.

Western Union is an old brand, experts note, but its years in business makes it one of the biggest competitors in the remittance industry.

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