The Philippines is an attractive market for top players like Western Union (WU). For a country that receives the fourth highest remittance volume in the world for years in a row, the remittance market in the Philippines is a competitive marketplace for international money transfer service providers.
Western Union, founded in 1851, is a global leader in cross-border, cross-currency money movement and payments. It has one of the largest global financial networks spanning over 200 countries and over 130 currencies.
The company is among the top players in the industry despite being the oldest player, thanks to its continuous investments to stay valuable and relevant to the ever-changing demands of consumers in today's digital age. The company has built robust digital services through massive infrastructure investments and global digital partnerships.
Western Union provides multiple ways to send money through the web, mobile app, and thousands of agent locations (over 550,000) all across the globe, coupled with convenient pay-out options including bank accounts, wallets, cash-pick up, it offers unmatched international money transfer services to businesses, corporations, and consumers.
In recent years, the company has witnessed double-digit growth in its digital money transfer revenues (from its website and several digital partnerships), a 38% increase from over $600 million in 2019 to more than $850 million in 2020. By the end of 2021, it expects to exceed $1 billion.
As we will discuss in detail later in the blog, Western Union's expansion of digital services in the Philippines is a key development for the growth of digital remittances in the country.
Remittances from the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) remittance had remained resilient for years. According to the World Bank, OFWs sent a total of $34.9 billion in 2020 despite the global economic downturn due to the pandemic.
Given the growing number of mobile and internet users and widespread digital penetration, the digitization of the remittance industry has been rapid in the Philippines. Digital remittances are becoming mainstream in the Philippines, given their lower cost, higher currency exchange rates, faster execution, convenience, and security.
It is important to note that about 71% of the country's 72 million adult population remained unbanked, according to the Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas (BSP) 2019 Financial Inclusion Survey. That said, the Philippines is home to around 2000 pawnshops.
Popular pawnshops in the Philippines such as Cebuana Lhuillier, Palawan Pawnshop have partnered with top international money transfer companies such as Xoom, WorldRemit, to give easy access to money transfer services.
Pawn Shops allow you to borrow money using your possessions such as jewelry, gadgets, vehicles, etc. These pawn shops have evolved to facilitate money transfers both domestically and internationally and even offer services like micro-insurance, microloans, bills payment, money exchanges, and more.
For OFWs sending money to loved ones in the Philippines, such partnerships bring great benefits. OFWs can send money online from anywhere in the world and the recipients can visit any branch in the Philippines to pick up the remittance.
At the same time, money transfer companies can expand their network in the country with such partnerships.
Western Union has been strengthening its presence in the Philippines through numerous collaborations.
Last year, Western Union partnered with Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop, one of the Philippines' biggest non-bank financial service providers, as a result of which over 2,500 Cebuana Lhuillier locations across the Philippines became part of the Western Union's global network. Customers using the Cebuana Lhuillier's network can send or receive money via Western Union's network in over 200 countries.
The company also teamed up with PERA HUB to provide seamless digital money transfer services across the Philippines through the UnionBank mobile app. In other words, Western Union's digital money transfer tools come integrated into the UnionBank app.
Customers in the Philippines can receive international and domestic Western Union money transfers into their UnionBank accounts through the UnionBank app (available for iOS and Android).
Western Union has plans to expand the app-based digital money transfer service from their UnionBank accounts to billions of bank accounts, mobile wallets, and cards in about 125 countries, covering more than half a million locations in over 200 countries and territories.
Western Union has also collaborated with TrueMoney and CARD Bank, to enable customers in the Philippines to receive money from their loved ones from across the globe
Western Union further extended its collaboration with Cebuana Lhuillier with the launch of digital money transfers that will allow eligible customers to receive Western Union international money transfers directly through the Cebuana Lhuillier Mobile App-eCebuana app ("eCeb"), which is available for iOS and Android.
The eCebuana app that comes with embedded micro-savings will enable customers to send and receive money digitally. Instead of going to the retail locations to collect the remittance, receivers in the Philippines have the option to direct an international money transfer into the eCebuana app.
To receive a Western Union transfer, users need to choose Western Union as their preferred receiver and put the Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN-available on the receipt given by Western Union with each transfer) and other required information. The money will be automatically credited to the micro-savings account once the steps are completed.
Cebuana Lhuillier micro-savings account holders, with the support of Western Union, have the option to receive money in the comfort and safety of their homes and use the funds toward various in-app services including bill payments, load purchases, and other financial transactions within the app.
The service will be rolled out locally and globally by early 2022.
Also, Cebuana Lhuillier is partnered with some of the biggest brands in the money transfer industry such as MoneyGram, Xoom, WorldRemit, and Remitly so that Filipinos around the world can send money to the Philippines with ease.
The digital initiative by Western Union and Cebuana Lhuillier is a time-opportune one. The global digital remittances are expected to reach $8.61 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 23.8%. The strategic collaboration of the two industry leaders will bring enhanced user experience while bolstering their digital capabilities.
Furthermore, the gaining popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin internationally will have a major impact on the global remittance market. Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, is a decentralized, distributed digital ledger that records transactions publicly.
The cost of international money transfers can be reduced significantly through the use of blockchain technology due to the lower infrastructure cost, zero hidden fees, and faster transfer speed without the need for correspondent banks.
Western Union has already been directing its funds to new technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies. It announced its partnership with Coins.ph, a blockchain-backed e-wallet and digital currency exchange located in the Philippines.