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Western Union: Big data driving digital transformation

Matthew Finnegan | July 14, 2014
CIO David Thompson and CTO Sanjay Saraf talks about Hadoop strategy

New competitors
One of the driving forces for Western Union's need to modernise its business with enhanced digital services is the prospect of new players entering into the market for money transfers.

A host of start-up companies have joined the fray, such as Dwolla and WorldRemit, which recently received $40 million venture capital funding, while tech giants such as Facebook have indicated their desire to be involved in money transfers in future. At the same time the prospect of wider adoption of Bitcoin is also on the horizon.

"Locally our business was being challenged with small start-ups coming and trying to offer something similar, or moving much faster. It was taking our business a lot longer to to get any kind of a change. That is just because we didn't know whether we were making the right decisions," said Saraf. "With access to data we are now able to act so much faster."  

Many of the start-ups that are offering remittance services, are centred around transfer of funds through mobile devices, as well as online. At the same time smartphone adoption in both developed and undeveloped regions continues to rise, leading to adoption of mobile banking services in many countries. This has put pressure on Western Union to rival the agile companies with a strong mobile of its own.

The company launched a mobile app to allow users to send and receive money, pay bills and find local agents. However it was not well received by customers initially, said Thompson. 

The Hadoop analytics was used to provide insight into use of mobile and online services, allowing the company to respond quickly after identifying customer preferences. This has driven improvements in its mobile application, said Saraf.

"We have started to take steps in embedding this data into our web and mobile front ends, so that we can now capture web interactions, and place it into Hadoop, even click stream data from Omniture. We are now able to feed that information into our UI/UX design process, and then look at how we start driving more personalised landing pages and changes in the interaction flows. That work has started in Q4 of last year. 

"The immediate result of doing customer experience UI/UX is that our mobile reading on iOS and Android has really dramatically scaled up," he said, adding that the app rating on App is over four stars.

Risk management
Western Union has also used analytics to improve it's ability to build a picture of risk on an individual and transactional level. Making the wrong decision on a transaction can mean either wrongly rejecting a customer - who may decide to look elsewhere - or approving a transaction that could see the company lose out.


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