Western Union moves to global prepaid cards

Consumers across the world can say goodbye to the days of carting large sums of cash in or out of Western Union offices.

The two companies first partnered last year to offer prepaid cards bearing the MasterCard logo in Western Union locations in the United States. So far, 1.2 million prepaid MasterCards have been issued through this domestic partnership.

In November, MasterCard and Western Union have agreed to take this partnership to the next level, expanding their payment services on a global scale. Effective immediately, making and receiving payments just got easier for consumers worldwide.

What does this expansion mean for consumers? For starters, more ways to shop, pay bills and get cash, as well as protect, manage and transfer their money, says Mike Hafer, vice president of Global Cards-Americas for MasterCard. "Consumers will have access to a global network to transfer and load funds onto prepaid cards-."

Consumer benefits

In addition to the traditional Western Union money transfer capabilities, consumers can now transfer money to or from the Western Union prepaid MasterCards -- or to and from the customer's existing MasterCard debit or credit card. Consumers can send money from any MasterCard prepaid, debit or credit card using Western Union online, by phone or at any Western Union location. Money can be sent directly onto any eligible MasterCard prepaid card, or onto any MasterCard debit or credit card account.

Western Union issues the MasterCard prepaid cards at participating locations, and consumers can reload MasterCard prepaid cards electronically or in-person at participating Western Union stores globally.

"The partnership simplifies the way that senders move money to family and friends by giving them access to a global network to transfer and load funds onto prepaid cards," says Hynes.

The companies have also launched a joint approach to Account-Based Money Transfer for the banking industry. At participating banks, account holders may send Western Union money transfers -- processed through the MasterCard network -- for pay-out through the Western Union network, says Hafer.

The Western Union prepaid MasterCard provides protection for consumers transferring money from a Western Union location. Consumers no longer have to carry large sums of cash to and from Western Union retail locations, which eliminates the risk of that cash being lost or stolen.

How it works To use a MasterCard prepaid card that is offered through Western Union:

  • Purchase and load a prepaid MasterCard with funds at any of Western Union's 485,000 agent locations around the world.
  • Reload money onto prepaid MasterCard at a Western Union location, electronically at WesternUnion.com, or by phone at 1-800-CALL-CASH® (800-225-5227).
  • Use the prepaid MasterCard's funds anywhere that accepts MasterCard.
  • Transfer money directly from a MasterCard (rather than using cash) directly from the MasterCard issuer's cardholder site to a recipient who picks up the cash at any Western Union location.
  • Transfer money (cash) directly onto an eligible MasterCard account (debit, credit or prepaid card) from a Western Union account?. (Eligible accounts are those for which the issuer has joined the joint Western Union-MasterCard program.)

Reaching the unbanked and underbanked Prepaid cards, like the Western Union prepaid MasterCard, appeal to a variety of consumers, from students without credit to travelers who do not want to carry cash to government agencies for payment of benefits and unemployment. However, much of the cards' growth is attributed to their use by financially underserved consumers.

Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 billion adults are unbanked or underbanked, according to information provided by MasterCard and Western Union. Currently, an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. adult population is unbanked or underbanked, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Prepaid cards allow these consumersthese consumers the ability to conduct financial transactions without worrying about overdraft, debit card or other account fees.

The FDIC found that approximately 12 percent of unbanked households and 16 percent of underbanked households have used a general spending prepaid card. "Prepaid cards and money transfers are helping build bridges to provide consumers with reliable, convenient and affordable forms of financial services," the companies said in a statement.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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