How Western Union Became a Global Digital Front-Runner for Cross-Border Payments

Money By Jay Jaffin, Head of Global Digital, Western Union May 24, 2021

A doctor in London taps an app on her phone to transfer 500 pounds. One moment later, in Shimla, a hill country city in India, close to the ridge of the Himalayan foothills, a cashier at the local store can count out the equivalent in cash rupees to her grandmother.

A software engineer in Silicon Valley taps an app to transfer US5,000 directly into his bank account in Karachi, Pakistan, for savings. A few minutes later, his Bank is ready to convert the equivalent directly into his account.

We make it that simple!

However, pinging money flows worldwide is complex and is grounded in transferring petabytes or bits of information between multiple jurisdictions.

We know that when people move, a trail of exchange follows money, goods, services, and technology. We believe that when these streams are well organized, good things naturally happen: An emerging generation is educated, remittances lift struggling economies, developed economies are rejuvenated, and catastrophes are mitigated.

Creating value for people, businesses, and society is the purpose that drives us. Western Union is committed to moving money and payments faster and farther than anyone else.

At our core, we are a network that connects people and this is validated by our customers trusting us to move money to family and friends and this also reflects in our recent financial performance.

For 170+ years, we have focused on creating innovative technology that connects people across the globe. We’ve enabled millions of individuals and businesses to send and receive money throughout our extensive network for over a century—and there are no signs of slowing down.

As the expansion of our global network continues, we currently serve more than 150 million customers across 200 countries and territories with a 130-currency portfolio. This, combined with technological advancements in our digital payment platform, has positioned us as a digital front-runner for cross-border remittance.

With unprecedented growth year over year, we have exceeded expectations for many key initiatives—accelerating the pace of our evolution as a global digital-centric payments company. Learn how our unique capabilities and customer growth are helping us lead the global digital remittance market and what’s ahead for 2021 and beyond.

 

Leading the Global Digital Remittance Market

In recent years we have recorded double-digit digital growth (both pre-and post-pandemic), with more global consumers choosing our digital money transfer services when sending to family and friends. Overall, our digital money transfer revenues—which includes revenues from our website and our digital partnership business—increased 38% to more than $850 million in 2020, up from over $600 million in 2019.

In the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, our digital revenues grew 45% year-over-year to over $240 million. As of the end of Q1 2021, this has put Western Union on target to exceed $1 billion in 2021.

 

 

Our commitment to enhancing the consumer’s digital experience—including providing faster registration, optimal web page performance, and enhanced visibility into transaction flow —also continues to pay off. Digital cross-border payments comprised 34% of transactions and 23% of revenues for our consumer-to-consumer segment in Q1, and it was a key source for new customers and incremental profit.

Additionally, Q1 was our fourth consecutive quarter of transaction growth of 50% or more, while average monthly active user growth topped 46%.

 

 

When comparing our money transfer app downloads to four of our industry peers, we led by a wide margin with 78% principal growth off an already large base, well ahead of the peers.

Customer Growth

Our continued commitment to enhance the consumer’s digital experience helped drive strong customer-to-customer (C2C) growth into Q1. C2C transactions grew 9% for the quarter, led by 77% transaction growth in digital money transfer. Digital money transfer revenues, including WU.com and digital partnerships, increased 45% on a reported basis, or 44% constant currency.

 

Given the strong customer-to-customer (C2C) business trends that we have seen over the past year—including almost 9 million active website users in 2020—our agenda for the remainder of 2021 is largely centered around enhancing the customer’s digital experience.

 

 

The world’s top five countries underpinning our digital growth include:

• United States
• France
• United Kingdom
• Australia
• Germany

We are a digital front-runner globally and a leader in all these countries aside from the United Kingdom.

How money transfer works for you

We help people move money for better, which is why customers can start a transaction online, with the app, or in person at an agent location, and their receiver can get the funds in the way that is convenient for them, paid out at retail or into a bank account, wallet or card where available.

When using our digital services, customers have the multiple options to fund their transactions including card, bank account and cash.

 

Learn more about options in your country

Western Union

Global Payments Network

With a 130-currency portfolio, we offer the largest digital global network coverage within the cross-border, person-to-person (P2P) payment sector. Our platform seamlessly unifies P2P payment connections for our customers, as well as customers of our partners, between both our digital and retail networks. This unique capability makes us a world-leading global financial network for digital fund sending and receiving.

 

  • Digital fund sending: An online presence in 75 countries and territories, of which more than 50 countries have transactional mobile apps.
  • Digital fund receiving: A global account network reaching 125 countries, paying out into billions of bank accounts, wallets, and cards, as well as a retail network with 550,000 locations across urban, rural, and remote parts of the world.

Most of our digital transactions are paid out at our retail locations across our global network. However, customers are making the shift to pay out into our account payout network. Nearly one in five transactions of digital transfers land on bank accounts and more than half of the transaction volume to these accounts is credited in real-time.

What’s Ahead

Looking towards the future, we will continue to focus on enhancing our digital money transfer services and forming new partnerships with financial institutions. Recently, we teamed up with Google to provide users in the U.S. with access to our highly rated digital money movement experience via the Google Pay app.

Google Pay users in the U.S. now enjoy a seamless peer-to-peer in-app experience when sending cross-border payments to family and friends through our global financial network of bank accounts, wallets, and retail locations throughout India and Singapore. Users may fund their transactions using Google Pay[i] bank account or card.

Google Pay users in the U.S. will be able to send money to their family and friends globally by year-end. Upon worldwide activation, they can choose to send funds to billions of bank accounts, millions of wallets and cards, as well as more than half a million retail locations in 200 countries and territories in minutes[ii].

[i] Debit or credit card linked to their Google Pay account
[ii] Funds may be delayed or services unavailable based on certain transaction conditions, including amount sent, destination, country, currency availability, regulatory issues, identification requirements, Agent location hours, differences in time zones, or selection of delayed options.

 

We believe these initiatives, combined with our deep-seated passion for connecting people around the globe, will help us remain a global digital front-runner for cross-border payments for years to come.

A digital remittance is an electronic transfer of funds between individuals worldwide. The majority of these funds are sent by global citizens to their family and friends in their homelands.

Defying predictions, remittance flows have proved to be resilient during the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, officially recorded remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached $540 billion, only 1.6 percent below the $548 billion seen in 2019. Remittances exceeded foreign direct investment flows by a wider margin in 2020. Excluding China, remittance flows surpassed the sum of foreign direct investment and official development assistance. Remittances have therefore become an important consumption smoothing mechanism for the recipient households and, as such, they form an increasingly important (private) element of global social protection systems. Global remittances for 2020 are pegged at $702 billion.

Source: World Bank

Western Union’s cross-border Consumer-to-Consumer, or C2C business, grew principal 28%, which was the highest quarterly growth in years and the third consecutive quarter with growth over 20%. This really shows the momentum we’re seeing today, especially when compared to forecasts from third parties projecting modest growth or even declines in principle for 2021.

 

There are two types of remittance, including an outward remittance (any money transfer out of a country) and an inward remittance (any money transfer into a country). For example, if you are sending money to a loved one overseas, it’s considered an outward remittance. For the loved one receiving the money, it’s considered an inward remittance.

Online: Send money from the comfort of your own home with WesternUnion.com or the mobile app. After you register for a free account or log in to your profile, you can use a wide variety of services to complete your transactions. You can pay with your bank account or a credit or debit card that allows you to send money to another bank account, an agent location, or even a mobile phone. We’ll send you a confirmation e-mail and a tracking number, so you can make sure your money is getting where it needs to go.

In-person: Why not do things the old-fashioned way and walk into one of our more than 500,000 agent locations worldwide? While you’re still able to send money in minutes1, or money to a mobile phone or bank account, you can also use next-day service. This feature allows money to be picked up in cash or by prepaid card at participating agent locations.

1Funds may be delayed or services unavailable based on certain transaction conditions, including amount sent, destination country, currency availability, regulatory issues, identification requirements, Agent location hours, differences in time zones, or selection of delayed options. For mobile transactions funds will be paid to receiver’s mWallet account provider for credit to account tied to receiver’s mobile number. Additional third-party charges may apply, including SMS and account over-limit and cash-out fees.

Yes, you can have funds sent directly to your bank account when your sender selects ‘Bank account’ during the transaction.

Pick up cash fast, no need to fill out forms.

  1. Answer our questions about your transfer on WU.com or the app to get started.
  2. Track your transfer and go to a participating Western Union® agent location to pick up money.
  3. Bring your government-issued photo ID and MTCN to receive your receipt and get your cash.

We know situations can change. That’s why Western Union makes it possible to change the way you receive your money.

To change from cash pickup to receiving money directly to a debit card:

  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Select ‘Track transfer’ and follow the instructions on the screen.
  3. Enter the tracking number (MTCN).
  4. Select ‘Receive money on a card.’
  5. Fill in the sender’s details.
  6. Submit the details of your debit card.