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MTN, Western Union take mobile money international

Deal starts with Uganda, and will be rolled out to 20 more countries

Western Union and MTN Group, Africa's largest mobile phone company, Wednesday unveiled an international mobile money transfer service in Uganda that will be rolled out to all of telecom provider's 16 operations on the continent as well as five in other regions.

In October 2010, the two companies announced they had signed an agreement to offer international mobile remittance services in the 21 countries in which MTN operates.

The five countries which this agreement covers but are not on the African content include Afghanistan, Cyprus, Syria, Iran and Yemen.

The service, announced Wednesday at a press conference in Kampala, marks the debut of an offering from Western Union that allows the more than 2 million customers of MTN's mobile money transfer service in Uganda to add funds to their accounts that were sent through Western Union's system.

"We are indeed excited about this new collaboration with Western Union as it extends the reach of our innovative solutions beyond Uganda's borders," Charles Mbire, the MTN Uganda chairman of the board of directors said. "MTN Mobile Money has been successful in increasing financial inclusion in Uganda. MTN will continue to offer Ugandans life enriching services."

A press statement said that senders can transfer funds as they normally would -- either in person at 450,000 Western Union Agent locations in 200 countries and territories, from the Western Union website in 22 countries or directly from a bank account in selected countries.

The receiver of the funds simply chooses to "pull" the transaction into a MTN Mobile Money account. The new service also enables MTN customers to send money internationally with Western Union directly from their Mobile Money accounts for cash payout at Western Union Agent locations worldwide or to subscribers of mobile phone companies with which Western Union has agreements.

Isaac Nsereko, the MTN Uganda Marketing Officer performed a demonstration at the announcement, where he received a remittance of US$5 from someone in Colorado.

Western Union has similar agreements with Safaricom's M-Pesa in Kenya, Vodacom in Tanzania, Telmar Madagascar and Inova in Burkina Faso, according to Marcus Cudina, Western Union's senior vice president for strategy

"This is the first operation to launch service in the MTN Group, the others will now be rolled out," Cudina said.

Western Union and MTN also announced that they will give away 9,000 branded mobile "Yellow Phones" via promotions throughout Uganda over the next few months.

MTN customers who receive these phones must already have an active MTN Mobile Money account or sign up for one in order to use the new remittance service.

"Our network of nearly half a million locations, our experience in moving money across borders, and our relationships with the world's most successful mobile operators such as MTN, ideally position us to introduce many people to cross-border financial services," said Nathalie Ferrant, inbound and business development director, Middle East and Africa, Western Union.

She said Western Union's Mobile Money transfer service will unlock new economic opportunities for thousands of underserved consumers in Uganda, whose financial needs are not being met elsewhere.

"By deploying these powerful tools for sending and receiving funds -- particularly in areas lacking financial infrastructure -- Western Union and MTN are helping create more self-sufficient local economies," Ferrant said.


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