Western Union, MTN partnership to benefit rural Africa

Khalid Fellahi, Senior Vice President Mobile Transaction Services at Western Union
Khalid Fellahi, Senior Vice President Mobile Transaction Services at Western Union, chatted to ITNewsAfrica.com about their strategic partnership with MTN Group.

ITNewsAfrica.com: What does the partnership with MTN entail?

Khalid Fellahi: The mobile money transfer opportunities in Africa are tremendous, with 40 billion dollars transferred just last year. This strategic partnership with MTN is therefore essential in bringing mobile money services to all the countries where MTN operates. Globally, we are present in 200 countries and around 425.000 locations for person-to-person money transfer. Around 50 million people are using mobile wallets to date.
With this partnership, Western Union will bring more cash in MTN’s mobile wallets, by allowing consumers to send money directly to mobile accounts while the integration with MTN allows us to expand our payment services throughout Africa. We have a back-end connectivity with MTN that permits users to access their e-wallets and perform transactions in seconds.

ITNewsAfrica.com: Where has this service been rolled-out so far?

Khalid Fellahi: We have already launched in Uganda and we will be rolling out the service whenever the regulations allow. In terms of partnerships, we are providing this kind of service in various countries such as Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya (M-pesa with Safaricom), in connection with operators and banks. We are looking forward to rolling-out mobile money services in India, Tunisia, Libya and most recently in Canada.

ITNewsAfrica.com: Will this service be able to reach rural communities in Africa?

Khalid Fellahi: Certainly, mobilized accounts will benefit rural communities. Usually in these areas, money transfers are performed only by banks and sometimes microfinance. This is not enough to reach everybody in every village.
What we are able to do now is to connect with a network of retailers in those communities where there are no nearby banks or financial institutions to give consumers the possibility to pick up their money directly by cashing their mobile wallets at retailers approved by MTN. Besides, consumers can also keep money in their mobile wallets as savings, perform other transactions or invest and build a financial history that would help in securing loans, for example. This is a very transformational tool that enables communities to get functionally banked wherever they are.

ITNewsAfrica.com: What is the company’s strategy for 2011?

Khalid Fellahi: We are committed to this channel and to develop more partnerships in the years to come. For developed countries we are also looking in developing a suite of mobile applications to initiate direct transfers from smartphones using credit/debit card accounts. Unfortunately, the penetration of smartphones in Africa is still low, but we believe that in a couple of years these solutions will benefit South Africa, for example, which has a higher rate of smartphone penetration and data application adoption.

By Denisa Oosthuizen


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