As Western Union Expands Chat App Transactions, Location Matters More Than Ever

Nidhi Gupta, Western Union’s head of global marketing, explains the value of incorporating WU's money transfer service into third-party apps like Viber and WeChat and why its 500,000 physical locations are still so vital.

A year after Western Union launched WU Connect, which allows third-party apps to host the company’s money transfer capabilities, the 165-year-old payments company has continued to promote its partnerships with popular communications apps Viber and WeChat.

The reasons why are clear: As Nidhi Gupta, Western Union’s global marketing director, notes, nearly 2 billion people are projected to be on messaging apps by 2018. In other words, that’s over a quarter of the world’s population. Chat apps are already used by 75 percent of all smartphone users and continue to be one of the fastest growing digital services in the world, she adds.

Both Viber, which operates in 200 countries, and China’s WeChat, each claim over 700 million active users respectively.

But with the idea of “contactless pay” and the rise of e-commerce, is access to 500,000 global brick-and-mortar Western Union locations still relevant for consumers? As Gupta tells it, physical agents and locations remain just as important, if not more so, than ever.

GeoMarketing: How does location technology factor into Western Union’s online-to-offline marketing strategy?

Nidhi Gupta: Location strategy is vital to Western Union and the value proposition for our customers. Whether it’s our online channel, or our mobile app, or our 500,000 locations worldwide, our distribution strategy is closely tied to our customer strategy. It is part of our omnichannel offering, with a goal to provide the customer the experience that they’re looking for, anywhere they may be, any time, and any way they may like it.

You can send money from one of our retail agent locations, or using our 4-star rated app or at, and the money can be picked up at 500,000 agent locations worldwide, be deposited into billions of bank accounts, or into a mobile wallet where available. A unique advantage of Western Union is this ability to connect the physical and digital world seamlessly.

Recently, we have taken our omnichannel strategy to the next level. Customers can initiate a money transfer on our mobile app, stage their transaction, and complete it at an agent location. This is especially valuable if you are someone that doesn’t feel comfortable providing your payment credentials online. 60 percent of our digital transactions in the US are initiated on a mobile device, and with this feature, we offer even more service and convenience to our customers via mobile.

Further, we now have the capability to offer Western Union services, not only through our own app and our owned channels, but also through partner platforms. Through an innovative technology platform called WU Connect, we can offer our money transfer service on third party platforms by utilizing our web-view or API integration options.

What platforms are you partnering with?

We’re live today with WU Connect on two chat apps, Viber and WeChat. We also have a healthy partner pipeline comprising banks, financial institutions, tech players and prospects from other industries. We are interested in partnering with high traffic consumer ecosystems, whose users have need to send money domestically or overseas, and they want to offer that service on their own platform. The opportunity for us, is go to where these customers are spending their time, and make it easy to send money while they are there, without disrupting their experience. For the partner, this helps drive further engagement and retention on their platform, and can be another revenue stream.

What inspired Western Union to look outside its branded channels and work with social apps? What are the use cases for social messaging transactions?

Money transfer is inherently a social activity, if you think about it. The cross-border remittance involves a 1:1 relationship, just like messaging or social interactions. A recent study by McKinsey had estimated that by 2020, 12 percent of global remittances will be initiated via social media and communications platforms.

A key advantage here is the ability to serve the customer right where they are, quickly and conveniently. For instance, you could be on Viber, chatting with a friend, wishing them Happy Birthday. And then think, “Why don’t I send my pal 50 bucks along with the birthday wishes?” with the knowledge that your friend could pick that money up in minutes at a Western Union agent location half the planet away. This also helps us serve the millennial or “on-demand” generation much better.

Western Union LocationsSpeaking of the physical world, how extensive is Western Union’s reach?

Our retail footprint includes more than 500,000 locations across 200 countries where money can be picked up in minutes. I grew up in India, where there are more than 100,000 agent locations. We are around the corner, nearly everywhere, from large cities to towns and villages. That’s how wide our footprint is. In fact, Western Union has the largest cash payout network in the world – more locations than all the McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and 7-11 locations in the world combined. You recognize these other brands as having a huge retail network since you see them around the corner everywhere, but you don’t realize that Western Union has even more locations.

Western Union is such a legendary brand — it was founded 165 years ago. How is that a challenge and a benefit when considering the app and omnichannel strategy?

For one thing, thanks to our omnichannel strategy, we are able to serve all kinds of use cases. Not every customer has a receiver in a country where they can send it to a bank account and call it a day. Some customers may not be able to wait a day or more for the money to be deposited into an account, in which case the customer can send the money to an agent location for pickup in cash, in minutes. Similarly, we offer the same convenience for the other channels or channel combinations that we offer. That’s part of Western Union’s value proposition.

The other benefit is our ability to do cross-border transfers very well. A lot of the players, they would serve you well just sending money within the country, but WU can do business in 200 countries, 160 currencies, across 16,000 corridors, sending 31 transactions every second. We have a global risk and payments platform, global compliance, and ability to settle in multiple currencies, which is not something that a lot of other brands are able to offer.

The challenge lies in that being a legacy brand, customers assume that we are retail-only, or are simply unaware of our digital or omnichannel capabilities.

Have you done any recent campaigns that have incorporated a direct online-to-offline component that covers both the brand and Western Union’s physical locations?

Absolutely – the ubiquity of our locations are something that we promote heavily in our marketing simply because it is such a large benefit for the customer, and competitive advantage for WU. So we let customers know that there is an agent location around the corner from them. Sometimes via the creative, and at other times through the way that we buy geo-targeted media. We cluster our out-of-home media in neighborhoods that have a lot of locations and incidentally our locations are where our customers live or work.

For the marketing that we’re doing around WU Connect, there is an interesting nuance. We are trying to target someone that’s a joint user of the partner and of WU.

As an example, let’s consider Viber and Western Union. We are catering to a Viber user looking to send money with Western Union (on Viber), and hence need to target them with a message that resonates with customers of both brands, on the intersection of media channels that the joint customer would use. You have to marry the personas and determine who is the target for the marketing, resulting in very unique campaigns and creatives.

What’s your expectation for the role of chat on Viber or WeChat will evolve for Western Union and programs like WU Connect?

In five years, you will not have 50, 60 apps on your phone the way we have today, because you will want to do more with every app on your phone. That’s where the world is headed, and chat is already a very big part of our daily apps. You likely open your chat app more frequently than most other apps on your phone.

How long have you been there now and what’s your bio in terms of how you arrived at Western Union?

I’ve been with the company almost 9 years. I think my tenure is a testament to all the exciting work that we’re doing within the omni-channel space, that keeps me challenged and motivated. I started out with WU when we primarily focused our marketing on the retail business. Then our CEO, who is a great visionary, opened up our digital headquarters here in San Francisco, and I moved to this office. I ran marketing for our US and Canada digital business, driving nearly 40 percent volume growth last year. A new opportunity emerged earlier this year with the WU Connect team, and I hopped onboard to head global marketing for the business. I draw from all the learnings and insights from our digital and retail business and apply them to promoting our service on partner platforms. On a personal note, I feel my evolution and growth has followed the transformation trajectory within WU, going from being focused on retail, to the shift to mobile and digital, and now to supporting our fintech capabilities, omni-channel strategy and partnerships. We are a 160-year “young” brand, using innovation and brand purpose as fuel to offer more value to our customers.

Other than that, I’m a marketer by passion and profession. I started out with Nestle. I think it’s a great way for any marketer to kick off their career by working for a consumer products company. After that, I worked at a nonprofit called TiE for a year, which helped startups in Silicon Valley get funding and any other guidance or know-how required to ramp up their business.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.