Western Union: keeping up with tech-savvy millennials?

With origins dating back to 1851, Western Union is known as a pioneer in the international money transfer scene. But as society shifts to demand more digitally savvy services, will the global finance service giant keep pace with the crowd?

New research commissioned by Western Union found in Australia, more than three-quarters of the millennials surveyed agreed the current global economic system was outdated, hinting that digital banking services and fintech were the way forward. The survey showed the generation wanted global collaboration without geographical restrictions and nearly two thirds believed the free flow of technology and information across borders would become easier.

As the technology behind blockchain gains momentum and we begin to see the introduction of borderless accounts, the future of international money transfers could be very different, to the advantage of the consumer. Already there are many alternative services available for transferring your money outside the major financial institutions and we are seeing many opportunities for consumers to shift away from high fees and long waiting times through our banks. But is Western Union a safe platform to transfer money and how can it continue to compete in such a fast-changing industry?

To get more insight into how Western Union is keeping up with quickly evolving technology and heightened expectations, we sat down with Country Director for Australia, Simon Millard.

Q&A with Western Union’s Simon Millard

How has Western Union kept pace with the greater demand by millennials for a digitally integrated service?

The growing population of digitally native millennials presents a major opportunity for Western Union. There’s been a sharp increase in smart phone penetration globally and a growing number of millennials utilising digital channels to access financial and banking services. Physical bank branches are on a significant decline in developed countries too so it’s important we keep up to speed with millennials’ demands in the digital space, especially with increased competition from fintech start-ups.

Our digital innovation over time has built a powerful cross-border platform – one of the largest physical and fastest growing digital networks. Our comprehensive global footprint and established financial services infrastructure means we’re in a position to respond to millennials’ wants and needs. Innovations such as WU.com and the WU mobile app ensure today’s millennials have the digital tools they need to create and live in the world they want.

Earlier this year, Western Union also launched a money transfer bot for Facebook Messenger in the U.S., which offers a simple, seamless experience for those who want to move money around the world. The bot for Messenger enables a digital-and-physical gateway for money movement, bringing access, convenience and leading-edge technology to these tech-savvy and highly digital-based consumers.

How do you ensure Western Union is a safe platform to transfer money?

Compliance has been at the heart of our business throughout our long history and we have a deep understanding of the complex regulatory environment across the hundreds of countries and territories in which our services are available. We recently increased our overall compliance funding to USD200 million per year, and 20 percent of our workforce is dedicated to compliance functions.

We leverage technology to further protect consumers and eliminate fraud, using the power of big data in real time to detect fraud in a matter of seconds.

The incidence of consumer fraud reports associated with Western Union money transfers has been extremely low, involving less than 0.1% of all consumer-to-consumer money transfer transactions over the last 10 years. Over the last five years, the dollar value of reporter fraud in consumer-to-consumer transactions, compared with the total value of all such transactions, has dropped more than 60 percent.

How does Western Union protect consumers from scammers?

We commit significant resources – funding, people, and technology – to help fight fraud and help both agents and consumers protect themselves from falling victim to fraud.

Beyond this, awareness and education are the best lines of defence for consumers and over the past several years we have made significant enhancements to protect consumers and the integrity of our money transfer network. The latest systems and tools we have developed and deployed include:

  • Custom Algorithms to help detect and stop potentially illicit transactions in real time.
  • Fraud Hotline which we’ve recently expanded to more than 85 countries and territories, allowing consumers to register complaints and helping to prevent millions of dollars in fraudulent transactions annually.
  • Courtesy Callback Program (CCB) which places some high-risk transfers on hold pending an interview with the sender, a process that resulted in USD300 million in customer refunds in 2016.
  • Our Interdiction Program which blocks certain individuals from conducting transactions.
  • Consumer and Agent Educational Materials including fraud kits, newsletters, fraud alerts and an online Agent Resource Centre, and multi-faceted agent training. Western Union also works to raise consumer awareness and warns about certain fraud schemes through online and point-of-sale educational materials.

What advice do you have for people to avoid scams?

Western Union promotes a couple of basic money transfer “never evers”:

Never:

  • Send money to a person you haven’t met in person.
  • Send money to pay for taxes or fees on lottery or prize winnings.
  • Provide your banking information to people or businesses you don’t know.
  • Send money in advance to obtain a loan or credit card.
  • Send money for an emergency situation without confirming that it’s a real emergency.
  • Send funds from a check in your account until it officially clears—which can take weeks.
  • Send money for an employment opportunity.

Also, it is not advisable to use consumer-to-consumer money transfer services to fund an online purchase.

What can we expect for the future of Western Union?

The most valuable innovation for Western Union will emerge from new partnerships between financial institutions, fintech start-ups, governments and consumers.

Western Union is about continuous advancement in digital innovation. Customers are looking for different options to send money; whether it is bank-to-bank, web, app-to-cash or from an ATM.

We will continue making strategic investments in our mobile apps and westernunion.com, which enable us to serve a broader range of customers.

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