“Western Union Customers Send Money Despite Political Relationships”

Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek explains how the Russian payment market is different from the foreign one

Western Union CEO Hikmet Ers / Andrey Gordeev / Vedomosti

When Vedomost talks to business leaders around the world about his business in Russia, he is often interviewed by managers of Russian divisions. This tandem makes it easier to delve into the details. But Western Union CEO Hikmet Ers did not need an assistant, even though the company operates in 200 countries and it is impossible to know everything about all of them. This proves the role of the Russian market in the Western Union business, although it does not explain the company’s shareholding in Russia. Ers shared not only an assessment of the current situation and forecasts, but also a retrospective view. He remembers a lot because he spent more than 20 of his 30 years at the Western Union.

Ers has interviewed Vedomosti as CEO in the last days of his job. “It’s time to move on,” he says. After the New Year, Ers will become a Western Union consultant for six months to help his successor accelerate without haste.

– Why are you stepping down as head of Global Western Union?

– I have spent a third of my life at Western Union and have been CEO for over 11 years. Running this business is one of the most important privileges and experiences of my life. But the time has come for the witness to pass. Devin McGranahan will take up this post at the end of 2021, will continue to work on a strategy to accelerate the development of Western Union, and I will continue as a special advisor to the company until mid-2022. Devin is a certified executive with over 25 years of experience with financial services companies, leading companies in the global market. He joined Western Union from Fiserv, a global provider of payment and financial services technology solutions, where he was executive vice president and chief executive officer of Global Business Solutions Group.

“What are you going to do next?”

– My main task is to ensure the successful induction of Devin. And now I plan to spend more time with my loved ones. This is more than enjoyable after more than 20 years of active work with plenty of business travel. And then who knows what the future holds?

– Are you happy with what you’ve got in this post?

– Do you know what drives us all in Western Union? Continuous respect and love for our customers. These people are citizens of the world. A money order is not just about sending money, it’s about sending your love and support.

Do you know why I decided to work for Western Union? I lived in Austria, and my father lived in Turkey, and he urgently needed money to go to the pharmacy and buy heart medicine. It was then difficult to send money from Austria to Turkey because it took 3-5 days for the bureaucracy. But there was one Western Union company that made the transfer immediately. And I thought: if my father lives in another country, there are probably millions of other people in the world who have a similar relationship with their relatives. And Western Union is helping to maintain that connection.

Looking back over the past two decades, I can say that I am proud of all that Western Union has done for our customers.

Western Union’s network has grown to include almost every country. Compliance turned us into a competitive advantage, which further strengthened the company’s credibility. We created and grew a digital business that provided more opportunities to transfer money, giving the service flexibility. During the pandemic, we innovated by making our services available to everyone, providing vital connections between people around the world.

“Businesses need to work with governments”

– How did the pandemic affect the Western Union business, what processes have inevitably changed?

– Since the WHO announced the global pandemic in March 2020, we have begun to live in new realities, in a different environment. We work in lock-in conditions, with no travel. Sending and receiving money through digital channels began to grow, [потребительское] people’s behavior has changed. There will be no more points to stop or reverse digitization. But that doesn’t mean the money will go away. Especially if we are talking about Russia – a country with a population of about 150 million. No matter where you live – in Moscow, St. Petersburg or in remote areas – people want access to goods, financial services, payments. I see that in Russia Sberbank and some other companies, such as VTB or MTS, have done a great job in that direction.

At the same time, we need to be careful and, as digitalization is changing the social environment, we need to be careful not to exclude anyone from this environment, but rather to bring as many people as possible into it. . After all, 1.7 billion people in the world do not yet have a smartphone, which means they do not have access to digital services, which means that 1.7 billion people do not have access to it. [удаленно] open a bank account.

However, digitalization is accelerating, there are now many fintech companies competing with banks, and the question is which banks will adapt to these changes and which will not.

– Can we say now that the state, we say, should be aimed at the customer?

– Absolutely. Aimed at people in terms of the state. Look at the political and economic changes in the world over the last 4-5 years. Border protection has become more spectacular. States are increasingly protecting their economy and deciding [главным образом] their problems. And it lacks a long-term focus on inclusivity. While resolving space protection issues, elected officials [удержанию его лояльности], common problems all over the world return to the background. Consider the problem of climate change no matter who runs the state. Governments need to think about the people, not the next election, that is necessary [между ними] there was a kind of unity [решении общечеловеческих проблем]… It is important to limit the role of governments to solving the problems of a particular country.

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