Western Union already has a foothold in China -- the money transfer company's services are available at 20,000 locations there -- but it's about to get a lot bigger. On Wednesday (Feb. 4) the company went live in a deal with the Bank of China that will eventually put Western Union in 10,000 branches of the government-owned bank.
The deal was timed to launch just before the New Year's/Spring Festival holiday that starts on Feb. 19 -- one of the biggest times of the year for money transfers, thanks to "red envelope" gifts of money.
Under the new partnership, Chinese consumers will be able to receive remittances through the Western Union Money Transfer service from abroad in minutes at a limited number of Bank of China branches and sub-branches throughout China. Eventually that will expand to 10,000 locations, the companies said.
The collaboration will also be expanded soon to let bank customers direct remittance money arriving from Western Union into their bank accounts via online banking, or collect it at self-service kiosks.
"Cross-border financial services have always been Bank of China's competitive edge and key focus," said Bank of China EVP Zhu Shumin. "Western Union is one of the world's largest and most experienced international money transfer companies, and Bank of China is the most international and diversified Chinese commercial bank. Our cooperation will allow our joint customers to enjoy an even bigger range of remittance products, more convenience and raise our service standards."
He added, "Through our collaboration, I hope that we can explore new areas of cross-border business and continually develop new products to satisfy the diverse needs of cross-border customers."
While Western Union's services are available in 200 countries and have been in China since 1995, Bank of China has had a branch in New York since 1981 -- and for the bank, a partner that gives it much better international payments reach may come in very handy. Privately owned digital banks are now being licensed inside China, with both Tencent (whose WeBank is already operating in limited mode) and Alibaba (whose MyBank should be launching within months) expected to leverage their own payments networks to support their banks both inside China and beyond its borders.