UAE IS 88% INTERNATIONAL MIGRANTS

Dubai 2020 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hatem Sleiman, Regional Vice-President, Head of Network, Middle East and South Asia for Western Union, on new software, money transfer trends, and patterns of migration.

How has Western Union enhanced its digital services in the UAE?

Western Union's global digital money-moving capabilities were recently enhanced in the UAE as part of the company's deep commitment to keeping the country at the forefront of the digital revolution. In the UAE, the company launched the Western Union® app and relaunched the Westernunion.com website in association with local agent Al Fardan Exchange, one of the UAE's leading financial services providers. Customers in the UAE can now connect to their families and loved ones around the world digitally with the choice to pay for transactions online or within the app via direct transfers from their local bank accounts.

What are the next advancements needed in terms of regulatory frameworks for Western Union to further expand its digital services in the UAE and the region, particularly when it comes to using debit cards for digital transfers?

In the UAE, customers can send money online via direct transfers from their bank accounts. Customers also have the choice to commence transactions digitally and pay in-person at agent locations. We continue to explore possibilities of online transfers via credit and debit cards. Another hot topic in this space is image monitoring and facial recognition. Governments have historically favored a more conservative stance even in areas of potentially more effective solutions such as electronic know your customer (eKYC) solutions. Digital trends and innovation cycles are moving ahead in advance of regulations, which always take time to catch up. Western Union is currently exploring facial recognition as a step in the eKYC process in some markets, which could potentially enhance efficiencies in data collection, verification, and due diligence. Additionally, it offers customers a better experience and more efficient controls, allowing them to provide verification details without the need for any manual intervention. Providing both senders and receivers their choice of channel is a key element of our money transfer strategy. We want to increase access points for Western Union services so consumers have the choice of interacting and transacting with the company based on their individual preferences. These options include sending money using cash at an agent location, digitally via mobile phone, online at WU.com through bank accounts or cards, and ATMs.

What are your key partnerships in the UAE to advance digital products and services?

At present, we are focused on the success of our digital collaboration with Al Fardan Exchange. We may consider other similar types of relationships in the future. This launch is a prime example of how we are starting to leverage our platform in new ways, bringing value to customers, and making it easier than ever for them to move money in a way that fits their lives. Western Union's strategy is to continue rolling out its omnichannel offerings and provide a wide range of services for both pay-in and pay-out, mixing physical-only, digital-only, or physical and digital solutions.

What role does Dubai and the UAE play in the regional portfolio, and which regional markets is Western Union focusing on in the short to medium term?

The Middle East is a vital and rising economic hub bringing people together from across Europe, Africa, and Asia and lifting them toward prosperity. International migrants working and living across the region represent a large part of the population and collectively send billions of remittances back home. In the UAE, 88% of the population is made up of international migrants, followed by Qatar at 75%, Kuwait 72%, Bahrain 51%, Oman 41%, Jordan 40%, and Lebanon 34%, according to the World Bank. Also, from World Bank figures, the UAE remits a sizeable volume of remittances, making it one of the top-10, person-to-person remittance markets in the world. The large expatriate workforce in the region means there is a strong need for them to send money to their families back home. Western Union provides regulated, convenient channels for money transfers to over 200 countries and territories around the world. Our focus is expanding in terms of access points, and as consumer needs change, we are expanding our digital services and giving customers the convenience of sending money any time from the convenience of their desktop or mobile phone.

Do the various nationalization plans in many GCC countries impact the remittances and money transfer market?

Nationalization plans in some markets are resulting in changing migration patterns. The trend toward impacts any company that operates globally, and Western Union, like all global companies, is aware of these rising trends. The fact is that, despite current protectionist trends, globalization is a force that cannot be reversed. Two indisputable facts of our modern life make this inevitably so. First and most obviously, technology is making the world ever-more connected. The other big piece of globalization is a factor as old as time: migration. People have always moved in search of a better life, and as they move they bring cultural linkages and commerce with them.

What are your strategic priorities and vision for 2020?

As a company with both a vast retail network and a growing digital operation, Western Union has a unique vantage point on the future of payments. The keys to competing and succeeding in cross border money movement are customer trust, global compliance capabilities, and data. We are leveraging our deep financial services expertise and technology to solve the complexities of cross-border money movement. When it comes to the last mile, our global presence, brand trust, and ability to meet customers wherever they are in the financial ecosystem give us a powerful advantage. This matters in a world where digital and cash transactions are likely to co-exist far into the future. Expanding digital channels is a major part of our strategy. We continue to add more touch points to our network such as ATMs and kiosks, as well as more payout options.