MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

Dubai 2020 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

Technology, globalization, and migration will ensure that no matter the nationalization policies carried out by regional governments, the remittance spout is unlikely to dry up any time soon.

Hatem Sleiman
BIOGRAPHY

Hatem Sleiman is responsible for the Western Union business, including business development, service delivery, compliance, and regulatory outreach in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Sleiman joined Western Union in 2003 as regional operations manager Middle East. His career progressed steadily within the company, seeing him assume the position of regional manager for the Gulf region at the beginning of 2004, followed by his appointment as business development director for the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan region in 2007. Two years later, Sleiman was appointed Regional Vice President for the Middle East. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University in the US and an Executive MBA from Boston Business School.

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 of paying 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 region?
In the UAE, customers can send money online via direct transfers from their bank accounts. Customers also have the choice to conduct transactions digitally and pay in-person at agent locations. We continue to explore the possibility 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, and physical and digital solutions.

What role do Dubai and the UAE play in your regional portfolio, and which 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 in remittances back home. In the UAE, 88% of the population is made up of international migrants, followed by Qatar at 75%, Kuwait at 72%, Bahrain at 51%, Oman at 41%, Jordan at 40%, and Lebanon at 34%, according to the World Bank. Also based on these figures, the UAE is a top-10 person-to-person remittance market in the world. 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 since consumers demand change, we are expanding our digital services to give them the convenience of sending money any time from their desktop or mobile phones.

How do 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. This trend impacts any company that operates globally, and Western Union, like all great firms, is aware of these rising trends. The fact is that, despite current protectionist trends, globalization is a force that cannot be reversed. Technology and migration make this inevitably so.