Mubasher: Western Union, the US worldwide financial services and communications company, has enhanced the UAE with the latest generation of omni-channel platform in a way of confirming the deep commitment to keeping the Middle East at the forefront of the digital revolution, Head of Network - Middle East and South Asia at Western Union, Hatem Sleiman, told Mubasher in an interview.
What’s the key role you have been playing in contributing to digital transformation in MENA?
Hatem Sleiman: As the head of Western Union in the Middle East and South Asia, I oversee the business development, service delivery, compliance, and regulatory outreach in the region. In addition, I also track key cultural and geopolitical trends connected to the movement of money and enabling money movement digitally - via mobile phone, to an account, or to a mobile wallet, across borders and currencies.
Over the last few years, I have led Western Union’s global digital money-moving capabilities across the Middle East, with seven countries now offering online services, connecting customers to their families and loved ones around the world digitally with the choice to pay for transactions online or in person.
The United Arab Emirates was the latest to be enhanced with the latest generation of Western Union’s omni-channel platform, joining Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Qatar, as a part of company’s deep commitment to keeping the Middle East at the forefront of the digital revolution.
We are also powering other brands to move money and enable international cross-border payments by leveraging our core cross-border assets. Our platform is uniquely suited to manage the liquidity flows and payment processing needed to accelerate funds in-minutes while also providing consumers and businesses with visibility into the status of their transactions from end to end.
Most recently we collaborated with Saudi Telecom’s STC Pay allowing its 51 million app users to send money from its app around the world.
How do you see the digital money transfer and remittances market in the region in line with the current tensions?
Hatem Sleiman: Many of our consumers are global migrants: people who move to new countries and send money home regularly. They make fundamental contributions to their families and communities, paying for things like education, healthcare, food, rent and other basic needs.
Remittances are even more critical during times of economic downturn, natural disasters and war, with remittance flows tending to be resilient and counter-cyclical; increasing during these periods of unrest in the migrants’ home countries as migrants send more money home to help their families.
How do you guarantee the maximum security for your clients’ accounts?
Hatem Sleiman: When providing their personal data to a company, consumers are putting their trust in that company to take care of their information.
Western Union takes its obligations regarding data protection laws seriously and continuously reviews and improves its data protection program. Protecting our customers – their transactions, their money and their information – is our priority.
Western Union’s cybersecurity strategy constantly evolves to anticipate and respond to existing and emerging threats, laws and regulations, and technological advances. The Company is dedicated to securing our customers’ personal information from unauthorized access in compliance with the standards for data protection in all the countries and territories in which we do business.
Cybersecurity is managed on an end-to-end basis. Our security measures include physical, electronic and procedural safeguards, with a comprehensive program performed throughout the year, that focuses first on identifying cybersecurity risks through numerous assessments of our internal systems, supplier systems, Internal Audit, third party assessments of our environment and penetration testing.
Thereafter, we focus on determining how best to limit or contain the impact of a potential cybersecurity risk through access control, training and awareness, policies and procedures and protective technology. We have a robust Incident Response Program designed to quickly detect, respond to and recover from an incident. We recognize that a key line of defense is our employees, who receive regular cybersecurity training and upon whom we rely to be alert, aware of and vocal about potential attacks.
Furthermore, we carry out periodic attack simulations, penetration testing and other tests of our vulnerability, including exercises involving the participation of our executive leadership team to prepare our leaders and teams for various scenarios.
With our services available in more than 200 countries and territories, we are heavily regulated. Given the amount of regulatory scrutiny we face, any movement into new products and services requires due diligence and dialogue with regulators.
You have recently teamed up with Amazon, would you consider this experience with e-commerce platforms in Egypt, like Jumia and Souq?
Hatem Sleiman: Our collaboration with Amazon is a prime example of how we’re starting to leverage our platform in new ways, bringing value to partners through our technology stack, APIs, settlement engine and compliance infrastructure.
Western Union is well positioned to connect the cash and digital worlds for our consumers, and we will continue to leverage our capabilities where we see opportunities.
We are open to exploring new business opportunities, particularly those that give us the opportunity to offer more choices to consumers. The options we choose will need to be legitimate and widely acceptable for consumer use.
What’s the current size of your business in the Middle East?
Hatem Sleiman: Western Union services are available at over 5,200 locations across the Middle East.
Additionally, consumers can also send money online via wu.com, with the convenience of sending from anywhere, any time or any day of the week.
We are unable to disclose country level information on Western Union transactions, however, the GCC and the wider Middle East, is a vital and rising economic hub bringing people together from across Europe, Africa and Asia and lifting them toward prosperity. International migrants working and living across the region represent a large part of the population.
The large expatriate workforce in the region means that there is a strong need for them to send money to their families and loved ones back home. Bank to bank transfer, digital transfers and cash to cash transfers all compete with each other to serve individuals who collectively sent $689 billion globally in 2018, according to the World Bank.
Ahead of the Money 20/20 event, what are the main topics you will be focusing on?
Hatem Sleiman: Western Union has always been at its core an electronic/digital network. We are one of the largest networks in the world to physically take cash in on a daily basis and digitize its value.
Western Union is looking to expand its cross-border, cross-currency platform with a focus on enabling speed, choice and efficiency for customers and businesses sending money around the globe.
Are you considering any coming expansion in your business regionally or internationally?
Hatem Sleiman: We are currently focused on opening our platform and nearly two centuries of investment and research to service new centers of growth. We want to serve as a money-transfer superhighway for an increasingly connected world.
Emerging economies have more than a billion consumers who will be a powerful new economic force in the coming decade. Over the past few years, Western Union has innovated to help ensure that the benefits of today’s global economy extend to communities up and down the economic ladder and around the world.
Our goal regionally or internationally is to cultivate relationships where the two companies work collaboratively to reach broader groups together.
We go from global to local and they go from local to global. Everyone is connected. Everyone grows. Everyone wins.
(Contributed by Ingy ElSafy)