Thursday, February 8, 2007
By: Tom Gitaa
A ceremonial ribbon cutting was held at the First City Monument Bank location in Lagos to mark the opening. Western Union first opened an agent location in the continent ten years ago.
Money transfer behemoth, Western Union International, opened its 10,000th agent location in Africa at the Matori branch of Nigeria’s First City Monument Bank just as that country’s Central Bank disclosed in an estimate that cumulative contributions of Nigerians in the Diaspora totaled $US 4.5 billion in 2006. A ceremonial ribbon cutting was held at the First City Monument Bank location in Lagos to mark the opening. Western Union first opened an agent location in the continent ten years ago.
Zineb Benjelloun, Western Union’s Assistant Marketing Manager for Africa told Mshale during an interview that the opening is a landmark for her company as it underlines the money transfer company’s commitment to Africa. She described the development as consistent with the company’s strategy of providing the most convenient service “to serve our customers wherever they need us”, she said. Her sentiments were echoed by Henry Semenitari, Executive Director, Retail Banking of First City Monument Bank who during the ribbon cutting in Lagos said “We fully support Western Union as it continues to grow and to provide even greater convenience to our customers, not only in Nigeria but across the continent.”
Western Union, which has the most extensive agent locations of any of the MTOs (Money Transfer Operators), has however faced stiff competition in the last few years. An unfazed Ms. Benjelloun, a Moroccan native, has since assuming office continued to stress the value her company provides, emphasizing the “peace of mind” that comes with using Western Union. On the issue of the informal channels for sending money (such as Hawalas) she said “Western Union, by partnering with reliable and leading postal and banking organizations across the continent, provides customers with safe, fast and convenient money transfer services reaching even the most remote areas in Africa.” Referring to the spotty availability of the informal channels in recipient communities.
She added in the case of Nigeria, “(Western Union) offers the largest U.S. dollar payout network of any money transfer company in Nigeria with more than 1,500 agent locations in more than 160 cities.” She said 2007 will be a year of network expansion for the company revealing that Western Union kicked off the year by opening its second agent location in Eritrea operated by Himbol Financial Service.
There is no doubt competition between the MTOs has been good for customers which even Ms.Benjelloun could not deny. In the Minneapolis market for example, there has been a precipitous drop in the cost of remitting money to Africa. In the 46 countries of Africa that Western Union serves, one can now send upto $500 for just $10.50, close to half of what it cost just a year ago. The new pricing scheme was announced last month with customers now having the opportunity to send up to $100 for as low as $8.50 in some of the major markets like Dallas and Los Angeles.
Over and above the business relationship that exists between western Union and its customers, Ms. Benjelloun said her company has demonstrated “multiple levels” of support for Africa including “event sponsorships and HIV prevention efforts to building schools and clean water programs to funding relief efforts when disaster strikes”.
In the United States, she said Western Union is a big supporter of the African immigrant community sponsoring over 80 African community events across the country with plans to support even more this year.
“Western Union is determined to keep building connections and we look forward to many decades of continued partnership in Africa,” Ms. Benjelloun said.