Western Union Service Goes High-Tech

People in Kenya have a new high-tech way to receive money, thanks to Englewood-based Western Union (NYSE: WU).The money transfer giant on Thursday announced that consumers now can send money directly to mobile “wallets” in Kenya from 45 countries and territories — the first service of its kind in the world, the company said.The service will use Western Union’s worldwide network for processing cross-border remittances, as well as M-PESA, a domestic mobile money-transfer service in Kenya that has attracted more than 13.5 million customers since its launch in 2007.“This service between Western Union and M-PESA shows a huge advancement for money transfer,” said Rebecca Loevenguth, director of strategic alliances for Western Union. “We recognized high mobile penetration in these markets, and a low number of people who used banks. We are adapting to meet customers’ needs through a new channel.”

The service will allow people to visit one of more than 80,000 Western Union agent locations in 45 countries and territories, and send funds directly to the mobile “wallets” of M-PESA’s subscribers. Funds generally are delivered in minutes, the company said.M-PESA has a license to operate its service from the Central Bank of Kenya.The ability to get money transfers on their mobile phones means that Kenyans in rural areas will have greater access to Western Union services, Loevenguth said.“We’ve been able to reach consumers who lived near our agent locations, but we may have been missing a huge segment that had an M-PESA account but weren’t using Western Union,” she said.

Kenyans use so-called mobile wallets, or money-transfer services, for cellphones, to shop, pay bills, save money and make person-to-person payments, Loevenguth said.The consumer sends a payment request via an SMS text message and a charge is applied to their online wallet.The Central Bank of Kenya reports that Kenyans living outside their home country sent $642 million home in 2010 — up from the $609 million in 2009.“The whole idea is to give senders and receivers multiple ways to send and receive,” Loevenguth said.

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