Western Union to Offer Mobile-to-Mobile Transfers

Western Union is teaming up with two other companies to offer customers money transfers over their cell phones. It's aimed at immigrants, who often don't go to banks or use the Internet to conduct business.

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Western Union is expanding a program aimed at immigrants in the United States who want to use their cell phones to send money overseas. The company is taking advantage of the growing use of mobile phones throughout the developing world.

NPR's Laura Sydell has this report.

LAURA SYDELL: Immigrants often come to the U.S. to help make money to support families back home. One of the most common ways of sending money back is to walk into a Western Union, put money on the counter, and have the cash wired to another branch outside the U.S.

Now that some 3 billion people around the world have cell phones, Western Union sees an opportunity, says Matt Dill, general manager of Western Union Mobile.

Mr. MATT DILL (Western Union Mobile): The ability to move money from one handset to another, to essentially give somebody value to top up a phone or pay a bill locally is really kind of the next step in moving money.

SYDELL: Outside the United States, using mobile phones to pay bills and do banking is much more common. It hasn't caught on in the U.S. because we have so many other options, like online banking and ATMs. But immigrants don't like to use banks, and many don't have computers.

Western Union has partnered with a small wireless provider, Trumpet Mobile, and with Radio Shack, which will sell phones with the new application. On the phone, users pull down a menu, click on send money, put in an ID number, and the money will arrive on a relative's phone.

Last year, Western Union reports it moved $64 billion to 200 countries across the globe. Dill of Western Union says the company must adapt to new technologies.

Mr. DILL: We're a remittance company, and the ability to accommodate and expand and extend into new technologies is really core to our strategy.

SYDELL: Western Union has already been running a pilot program using the new system, but it is now expanding it to more than 4,000 Radio Shacks around the country.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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