Mobile payments is a hot trend these days, and it's arguably taken off considerably faster in developing markets where consumers rely on cell phones probably more than any other personal device.
While it seems like Western Union, that old mainstay of wire transfers, just got into the e-commerce game with an electronic payments platform, the global payments service is farther along in this field that one might expect.
Western Union has inked a deal with MTN, one of the largest mobile operators in Africa, to launch a cross-border mobile money transfer service today that will span the 21 African markets where MTN operates, starting with Uganda.
This isn't Western Union's first foray into the region. It previously inked a partnership with Safaricom M-PESA in April 2011, which allows money transfers to subscribers in Kenya from 45 countries.
Operating in conjunction with MTN's Mobile Money program, the new service will allow Western Union customers to do the following:
- Receive money from nearly 100,000 Western Union Agent locations in 57 countries
- Send funds directly from their mobile phones for payout at one of more than 400,000 Western Union Agent locations in 200 countries and territories
- Send funds from their mobile phones to a subscriber of a mobile operator with whom Western Union has launched the MMT service (i.e. Smart, Globe, Maxis, EnStream, M-PESA)
Furthermore, Western Union is showing off shades of a digital wallet in which customers can pull and accumulate money transfers in one online account.
To further entice potential customers, Western Union will be handing out 9,000 branded mobile "Yellow Phones" to Ugandans over the next few months. The catch is that customers who receive these phones must already have an active MTN Mobile Money account -- or at least sign up for one in order to use the new wire transfer program.