key market for Western Union
— the largest money transfer network in the world — sees immense
potential in Sri Lanka and considers it one of the key markets in
South Asia. This is because a large amount of remittances from those
working overseas reach the country.
In fact, last year official remittances exceeded US$ 1
billion, and this year it is likely to be in the region of US$ 1.2 to
1.3 billion. However , most people still transfer their monies via the
normal banking channels, and it is intended to shift their preference
to the network, which offers a speedier and more convenient service.
Western Union’s Regional Manager for Southern India, Sri
Lanka and the Maldives, Ratheesh Kumar said they presently have 350
locations in this country, and are considering opening up in the north
and east with the return of peace and stability.
According to him, they would like to ensure a nearby Western
Union location for collecting remittances. “We are doing research to
identify where there is the biggest potential and expand on a priority
basis,” he said. They are also seeking non-banking financial
institutions in Sri Lanka to act as sub-agents.
At present, Seylan Bank is the main partner and agent of
Western Union in Sri Lanka, while People’s Bank is a sub-agent. The
network has also tied up with Mercantile Merchant Bank.
Kumar pointed out that as much as 90% of the remittances to
Sri Lanka come through the normal banking channels, where the transfer
can take from three days to a week. Even a SWIFT transfer takes at
least three days. However, using the Western Union service , money can
be transferred within just 10 minutes. The network covers 197
countries, with 140,000 agent locations throughout the world.
Besides speed, the Western Union service offers much
convenience as well as the trust and reliability that comes with this
It was noted that one has to face hassles when obtaining
remittances from banks, such as having to stand in queues. By
contrast, receiving monies through the Western Union system is very
simple and involves minimal paperwork. The basic procedure is as
The sender goes to any Western Union location and submits the
principal amount to be transferred along with the fee. The information
is fed into the system. As soon as the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN)
is communicated to the receiver, he/she can go to any Western Union
location, submit proof of identity and collect the money. All this
takes place in under 15 minutes.
Western Union services have been available in Sri Lanka since
1993. Kumar said they have a two-pronged strategy to promote their
service here. It involves a mix of the traditional media (television,
radio and the press) and outdoor options.
He also pointed out that they have a few exclusive Western
Union locations in Sri Lanka, which are painted with their corporate
colours yellow and black. He added that they are in the process of
identifying more such places. The intention is to have four or five
exclusive locations within the year 2004. This will help build up the
network’s brand image.
Western Union claims a long history, and has earned a
reputation for trust and reliability. It was founded in 1851 in the
US, and ventured into the money transfer business in 1871.
The company launched its private satellite in 1989, the year
it decided to go global. In 1995, it was acquired by a Fortune 500
company called First Data Corporation.
The Western Union network has expanded rapidly in the recent
past. In 1991 it was engaged in international money transfer
operations in 21 countries. Today, it has a presence in 197 countries.