An Interview with Aida Diarra, Western Union Regional Vice President for Africa
Q. How did Western Union build its history, image and identity in the past 20 years?
A. The best way to know how Western Union is perceived is get feedback from our customers. I have been fortunate over the past 20 years to engage with customers, to listen to focus groups, and to get a sense of what Western Union means to our customers. We are very close to our customers. They believe we are an enabler that empowers them to get and to send money back to their families, and to support their families back home- that’s the key take-away. Western Union has been working with customers for 20 years, empowering them to support their families and beloved ones in their home countries.
Q. What about your agents and FLAs, do you think there is an added value from Western Union to them? In terms of training, for example?
A. We would not have been able to accomplish everything we have made over the past 20 years without the engagement, and the passion of our operators and our agents. They are the ones serving our customers. It is almost as if Western Union were their own brand, this is what makes the relationship that we have with our FLAs and operators very unique across Africa.
Q. Every country has its own specificities and its own complexities. How does Western Union deal with these challenges, across about 54 countries and territories?
A. Very often, Africa is perceived as one big country, but you are talking about 54 different countries, with up to 200 different languages and dialects within each country. You have different regulatory environments and frameworks, and different ways in which people communicate and reach each other. There are also differences in the way people do business. This is all very important and makes Western Union unique. We have the ability to be relevant in every single one of these markets. We have been able to engage with our partners and build our network in countries or areas where it is really challenging from an infrastructural point-of-view. Yet, in every single one of these countries, we have been in a position to offer a fast, reliable and convenient way to send and receive money. This is a unique situation and we have been very fortunate to accomplish it.
Q. Nigeria is a big country, with a lot of potential. Do you think Western Union has the capacity to maintain its winning trend in this market?
A. Nigeria is very unique in the sense that it is a huge market with the highest potential. It is also the largest receiving market in Africa. What makes Nigeria very unique is the regulatory environment that requires that we partner only with financial institutions. It is the sheer number of people you have to target with your service which makes it quite interesting, and also the diversity within Nigeria – different regions, languages, ethnicities – that makes the country very unique. We have come a long way in Nigeria with the expansion of the network. Today, we have well over 5,000 locations in this country. When you compare that with the size of the country and its 170 million inhabitants, you see that the opportunity is much bigger. The way we are engaging customers in Nigeria is by diversifying the portfolio of services and channels. That is how, today, in Nigeria alone, you can receive your transaction in an electronic wallet, directly in an account, or you can even log on to the Western Union website to put your money into an account. That is what helps us to continue to service our customers in a very huge and diverse market like Nigeria.
Q. Kenya is one the leading markets where Western Union developed its business by integrating mobile money transfer. What can you tell us about Kenya, about the potential of that country?
A. Kenya is an amazing market. It shows what our continent will look like in the coming years when it comes to the adoption of technology. The way we have seen the development of the use of the mobile wallet for financial services could be an indication of how it is going to expand to the rest of the region. Kenya is also one of the markets where we have tested the capability to send money through electronic wallets because the customers were ready, the adoption has followed and it was a natural transition to evolve from the retail network to digital. It worked very well.
Q. 20 years have gone by. What about the next 20 years? How will Western Union be operating in Africa, and how you see yourself within this company?
A. Western Union has all it takes to continue to be relevant in Africa, and it starts with the partners that we have. They are unique and are better equipped to continue to serve our customers. The team working in the region is very passionate about their work. You will not find that in many companies, and we really have an extraordinary understanding of what it takes to do business on the continent. There is also a lot of potential. People continue travelling from one country to the other, traveling within their own countries, and doing business or looking for better opportunities. That is the African reality, and the Western Union brand, with our ability to offer a diversified portfolio of services, will continue to be relevant and will continue to develop strongly.
Q. Do you have any special message for your Nigerian customers?
A. The Nigerian spirit of hard work and resilience can be found around the world across all economic spheres. Western Union recognizes that, at the start and end of every transaction are two people, and they rely on each other, just as much they rely on us to move their money reliably. It is this dual belonging that remains at the heart of our innovation to make it easy for Nigerians to send or receive money.