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Western Union moves to global prepaid cards

By LaRita Heet

Consumers across the world can say goodbye to the days of carting large sums of cash in or out of Western Union offices.

The two companies first partnered last year to offer prepaid cards bearing the MasterCard logo in Western Union locations in the United States. So far, 1.2 million prepaid MasterCards have been issued through this domestic partnership.

In November, MasterCard and Western Union have agreed to take this partnership to the next level, expanding their payment services on a global scale. Effective immediately, making and receiving payments just got easier for consumers worldwide.

What does this expansion mean for consumers? For starters, more ways to shop, pay bills and get cash, as well as protect, manage and transfer their money, says Mike Hafer, vice president of Global Cards-Americas for MasterCard. "Consumers will have access to a global network to transfer and load funds onto prepaid cards."

Consumer benefits
Now that MasterCard and Western Union's electronic payment networks are interoperable, "tens of millions of consumers" worldwide have an easier way to transfer money, says Ron Hynes, group executive, Global Prepaid Solutions at MasterCard. 

In addition to the traditional Western Union money transfer capabilities, consumers can now transfer money to or from the Western Union prepaid MasterCards -- or to and from the customer's existing MasterCard debit or credit card. Consumers can send money from any MasterCard prepaid, debit or credit card using Western Union online, by phone or at any Western Union location.  Money can be sent directly onto any eligible MasterCard prepaid card, or onto any MasterCard debit or credit card account.

Western Union issues the MasterCard prepaid cards at participating locations, and consumers can reload MasterCard prepaid cards electronically or in-person at participating Western Union stores globally.

"The partnership simplifies the way that senders move money to family and friends by giving them access to a global network to transfer and load funds onto prepaid cards," says Hynes.

Fees and freebies

Pay attention to the following fees (and freebies!) associated with Western Union Prepaid MasterCards:

Freebies:

  • Monthly maintenance fee
  • Signature purchase transaction fee
  • PIN purchase transaction fee
  • Payroll direct deposit
  • Automated phone customer service
  • Online electronic statements
  • Text message balance notifications (standard message and data rates may apply)

Fees:

  • Bank to card transfer fee: $1.00
  • ATM withdrawal fee (plus applications ATM operator fees): $1.95
  • Agent location cash load fee: $4.95
  • Inactivity fee (monthly charge beginning in month 13 of inactivity): $2.50
  • ATM balance inquiry/decline fee: $0.45
  • Additional fees could include $5 fee to reissue card, $3 paper statement fee and currency exchange fees

The companies have also launched a joint approach to Account-Based Money Transfer for the banking industry. At participating banks, account holders may send Western Union money transfers -- processed through the MasterCard network -- for payout through the Western Union network, says Hafer.

The Western Union prepaid MasterCard provides protection for consumers transferring money from a Western Union location. Consumers no longer have to carry large sums of cash to and from Western Union retail locations, which eliminates the risk of that cash being lost or stolen.

How it works
To use a MasterCard prepaid card that is offered through Western Union:

  • Purchase and load a prepaid MasterCard with funds at any of Western Union's 485,000 agent locations around the world.
  • Reload money onto prepaid MasterCard at a Western Union location, electronically at WesternUnion.com, or by phone at 800-CALL-CASH (800-225-5227).
  • Use the prepaid MasterCard's funds anywhere that accepts MasterCard.
  • Transfer money directly from a MasterCard (rather than using cash) directly from the MasterCard issuer's cardholder site to a recipient who picks up the cash at any Western Union location.
  • Transfer money (cash) directly onto an eligible MasterCard account (debit, credit or prepaid card) from a Western Union account?. (Eligible accounts are those for which the issuer has joined the joint Western Union-MasterCard program.)

Reaching the unbanked and underbanked
Prepaid cards, like the Western Union prepaid MasterCard, appeal to a variety of consumers, from students without credit to travelers who do not want to carry cash to government agencies for payment of benefits and unemployment. However, much of the cards' growth is attributed to their use by financially underserved consumers.

Worldwide, an estimated 2.5 billion adults are unbanked or underbanked, according to information provided by MasterCard and Western Union. Currently, an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. adult population is unbanked or underbanked, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  

Prepaid cards allow these consumersthese consumers the ability to conduct financial transactions without worrying about overdraft, debit card or other account fees.

The FDIC found that approximately 12 percent of unbanked households and 16 percent of underbanked households have used a general spending prepaid card. "Prepaid cards and money transfers are helping build bridges to provide consumers with reliable, convenient and affordable forms of financial services," the companies said in a statement. 

See related: 9 things you need to know about prepaid cards, Study: Prepaid cards can be better deals than checking accounts

Published: December 5, 2011


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Updated: 12-11-2016


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