Western Union is turning petrol station attendants in Australia into money-transfer agents, reaching out to customers such as Uber drivers who fill up at all hours of the day.

A new partnership with BP in Australia will allow customers at BP petrol stations to use Western Union to send money overseas, with an attendant completing the transaction.

Western Union’s mobile app is already available around the clock in Australia for sending money using a credit card, but customers will now be able to set up a transaction using the app and then pay in cash at service ­stations.

The company is facing competition from fintech start-ups such as TransferWise, which are eating into its core business by making it easier for consumers to transfer money internationally using mobile phones or home computers.

The service will be enabled in 302 BP stores — 150 with a stand-alone kiosk, the rest where customers will use the app — as Western Union seeks to squeeze more growth out of its bricks-and-mortar retail network.

The company says the kiosks are its first globally at petrol stations and, if they are a hit, similar programs could be rolled out in other countries. Australia, with a population of 24 million, is a small market for Western Union, but international companies frequently test services or products here for developed markets.

The new service aimed to increase convenience for customers who prefer to send money outside normal business hours, said Simon Millard, Western Union’s country director for Australia.

Many of the company’s retail agents in post offices, travel agencies or currency exchange outlets are closed at night and at weekends, while many petrol stations, by contrast, are open 24 hours a day. Potential customers being targeted include taxi and Uber drivers, many of whom are immigrants and often send money to family overseas.

Western Union has enhanced its retail presence elsewhere with kiosks at Walgreens stores in the US, WHSmith bookstores in Britain and Franprix supermarkets in France.

It has also explored ways to boost its online-transfer business by partnering with messaging apps Viber and WeChat.

Western Union chief executive Hikmet Ersek said in Sydney a lot of growth would come from these digital offerings, which in the first quarter generated 26 per cent more revenue than a year earlier, but remained relatively small.

Revenue from consumer-to-consumer transactions — which make up 78 per cent of the company’s total — were roughly flat in the first quarter.

Another potential challenge for Western Union is the pending acquisition of rival MoneyGram International by Alibaba Group’s Ant Financial. The deal would create a bigger international competitor with a significant footprint in China and the US.

Shares of Western Union — which has a market cap of $US9 billion ($11.3bn) — have fallen more than 12 per cent this year, even as the broader US market ­recently hit record highs.

Extracted from The Australian.

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