Western Union Forms Zimbabwe Alliance With Mobile Company

Western Union Co. has formed a partnership with Zimbabwe’s largest mobile-phone carrier as the global money-transfer company seeks to handle more of the funds sent home by the southern African country’s citizens overseas.

Since yesterday, customers of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe Ltd. have been able to do transfers with Englewood, Colorado-based Western Union on their mobile phones.

“The intention here is to expand our footprint, because we now have a virtual location, we have 230 bricks-and-mortar locations, and now we have 3 million handsets,” Richard Malcolm, Western Union’s regional vice president for southern and eastern Africa, said in an interview in the capital, Harare.

The estimated 3 million Zimbabweans who live outside the country sent $1.8 billion home last year through remittances, according to the central bank. Western Union is adding to partnerships it has in Zimbabwe with CABS Ltd., a local unit of Old Mutual Plc, FREDEX Express Ltd., Post Office Savings Bank, Easy Link, Zimpost and Steward Bank Ltd.

“Zimbabweans are around in Australia, the U.K., the U.A.E., South Africa, the U.S., Zambia and Botswana,” Malcolm said. “There is a significant volume of transactions. Remittances are important to the economy of this country.”

Econet has 9 million registered customers, while money-transfer unit Ecocash, founded in 2011, has 4 million subscribers and a network of 15,000 agents. In the nine months to September, Ecocash processed $2.4 billion of transactions. Competitor Telecel processed $17 million of business and state-owned Net One $1.3 million, according to figures from the central bank.

Rands, Pulas

Zimbabwe abandoned its own currency in 2009 as hyperinflation reached an official record 230 million percent. Since then, the country has used currencies including the dollar, the pound, the South African rand, Botswana’s pula and Australia’s dollar.

“I don’t have this situation anywhere in any other country that we operate in,” said Malcolm. “It’s a unique area.”

Some Zimbabweans based on South Africa send money home with bus drivers operating between the countries. They typically charge 200 rand ($18) for every 2,000 rand transported, Malcolm said. Western Union’s fee will be less than 10 percent, he said.

The tie-up with Western Union will enable more Zimbabweans outside the nation to send money across the world, said Natalie Jabangwe, Ecocash’s head of business and market development. “We want to continue to be the tool that facilitates financial remittances from the diaspora,” she said.

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