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Zain, Western Union in money transfer services deal

Mobile money transfer services on offer through Zap platform of Kuwait's Zain

Kuwait-based mobile telco operator Zain has confirmed it is teaming-up with US money transfer services provider Western Union to deliver joint mobile money transfer services in MENA countries through Zain's Zap platform.

The Zap service provides Zain customers access to a full range of transactional services from their mobile phones.

Customers can interact with select bank accounts, top-up or transfer airtime, and move money to businesses, friends and family.

The service also allows customers to pay bills such as electricity, and can even be used to settle grocery bills in the supermarket.

Zap has been operational in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda for several months, making mobile banking services available to more than 100 million people in East Africa. Zain has announced plans to introduce Zap in 22 markets.

Under the Western Union tie-up customers will not have to show up in person at a Western Union branch.

Recipients on the other hand can choose to either to pick up their cash from Western Union in person or have it transferred to an account tied to their mobile phone.

The service is seen as particularly useful for people working abroad who want to send remittances home, where one or both parties has no easy access to Western Union or other physical money-transfer outlets.

Zap customers pay a flat-rate premium SMS charge, regardless of how much money they receive or from where. Zain has an estimated 65 million customers.

Western Union meanwhile has an agent network of 334,000 locations in 200 countries and territories.

"This service will enable the millions of people who are abroad to send money home swiftly to their friends and families not only in the cities but also directly to the villages across these countries," Zain Chief Executive Saad Al Barrak said in a statement.

The statement, released at a GSM Association conference on mobile money in Barcelona, cited research from industry group Aite saying that people living outside their home country sent nearly $400 billion in remittances around the world in 2008, with sub-Saharan Africa alone receiving $10.8 billion in 2007.