Western Union Co. is making remittance as easy as buying a gift card off the rack.
Through a deal with Interactive Communications International, an Atlanta company that sells gift cards at 150,000 retail locations, Western Union hopes to make its service more mainstream by tapping into the prepaid frenzy.
"We're diving into the prepaid category fairly aggressively," Stewart A. Stockdale, a Western Union executive vice president and its president for the Americas, said in an interview Wednesday.
Western Union, of Englewood, Colo., launched a system in July called MoneyWise, which allows people to receive money on a prepaid card. The service it is introducing this month with InComm, called GoCash, provides a similar service for senders.
The Western Union prepaid card is a piece of cardboard sold in values of $50, $100 and $200. Stockdale said Western Union chose those values because they are "very much in line with the gift-giving size" most frequently purchased on gift cards.
Though the system requires senders to follow up with a phone call to complete the money transfer, GoCash is, "in essence, a prepaid money transfer product where people buy it off the rack," he said.
Western Union hopes to reach a wider audience through this marketing approach, Stockdale said. "Our primary segments in the U.S. are migrants and emergency send," he said.
GoCash should appeal to consumers who would want to use a money transfer as a gift, for example, he said.
Western Union has a substantial retail presence, with 50,000 agent locations in the U.S., but Stockdale said it could still benefit from InComm's network of grocery, pharmacy and convenience stores to make its service accessible to more people.
Although speed is typically an asset for money movement, he said a sender could choose to wait weeks before completing the transfer.
This makes GoCash more enticing as a gift-giving idea since it allows people to plan ahead and initiate a transfer at the time of their choosing, Stockdale said. "Here, what you're doing is capitalizing on the convenience of prepaid."
Stockdale said the system could be paired with MoneyWise so that both ends of the transfer are handled through a prepaid product, but it is up to the recipient to choose how the transfer is completed.
Brian Riley, a research director in the bank cards practice at TowerGroup in Needham, Mass., said Western Union's typical process for sending a transfer, though not especially complicated, is not as convenient as buying a gift card off the rack.
As such, GoCash should pay off for Western Union, Riley said. "With prepaid, the more convenient you make it, the more you sell," he said.
One drawback Riley sees is the enforcement of specific dollar values, since this could discourage people from using GoCash for international transfers. "When you start converting them into foreign currencies … they don't convert evenly," he said, and a round number in U.S. dollars could translate to an unusual amount for the recipient.
Riley likened the GoCash system to a recent move by eBay Inc.'s PayPal unit, which has begun allowing users to fund their PayPal accounts with the Green Dot Corp. MoneyPak cards that are sold in retail stores. In each case, the payment companies are addressing the same question, he said, "How do you fundamentally get money into the system?"