Exclusive Q&A with Talya Bosch, Senior Director of Social Ventures, Western Union

20120319-justmeans-talya-bosch-photo"The question becomes choice. And giving people in every market as much choice as possible is powerful." -- Talya Bosch, Senior Director of Social Ventures, Western Union

Earlier this month, I attended the conference "The Role of Business in Empowering Women" at the United Nations. Hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) and the United Nations Office for Partnerships in partnership with the Center for Women in Business, the conference was part of the many events taking place at the UN on International Women's Day.

One of the attendees was Talya Bosch, who was there to moderate a panel discussion entitled "Women and Financial Inclusion." The panel included Jane Wurward, founder and owner of Dermalogica; Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Pam Flaherty, CEO of Citi Foundation; and Nadereh Chamlou, Senior Advisor to the Chief Economist of Middle East and North Africa, World Bank.

As the Senior Director of Social Ventures at Western Union, Talya is leading cross-sector collaborations to help create financial opportunities for women and other underserved groups around the world. I had a chance to ask her some questions about the conference and how women, migration, remittances, mobile money and prepaid cards fit into the overall theme of financial inclusion.

What ideas and concerns rose to the top of your panel discussion at the BCLC conference?

Beyond the need to focus on gender, Nadereh Chamlou said that some of the patterns that the World Bank is seeing are related to the "missing middle," the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are too big to access microloans but too small to access financial vehicles reserved for large businesses and which are largely missing in developing countries. The need to think about how we consider financial inclusion not just at the bottom end or entry level, but all the way up the economic ladder, was certainly a concern. And the panel generally agreed that while women's needs might differ slightly, generally women are still underrepresented and bear a disproportionate brunt of the impact of poverty.

It was heartening to be at the United Nations for International Women's Day and see that there are so many committed people, companies and groups around the world who are coming around to the conclusion that a large part of a sustainable and just future for society involves the investment in women. And the numbers show that the ROI is greater when it comes to investing in women than investing in men.

All the data certainly suggests that's true. It's something that we've seen and heard from many of our grantees. One of the things that came across at the UN conference is that women really are an underrepresented market. They are a growth market. So when you think of the ROI being higher, some of that could be reasons of gender, but smart businesspeople always look for good growth opportunities, good growth markets. Nadereh quoted Gloria Steinem, who told the Financial Times that we should think of women as "the last immigrant group...The Irish, the Italians, the Jews, you know, couldn’t make it through other people’s hierarchies because of bias. They tended to start their own businesses...And I think that’s part of the reason women are starting businesses at a higher rate than men.”

Western Union is the world's largest money transfer company by transaction volume. How does providing people with the ability to transfer money expand financial inclusion?

One powerful example of shared-value in terms of money transfer is the tremendous positive impact that remittances have on people's lives and society in general. What most people probably don't know is that remittances are more than double all sources of foreign aid combined. It's a way for many people around the world, particularly those in developing economies, to put food on the table, send their children to school and pay their medical bills. Remittances are a great stabiliizing force and a tremendous part of the GDP in many parts of the world.

Have you noticed a general trend in terms of remittances?

It's very market-dependent. I can't say there's one universal trend. But the place we really tend to see it most is immediately following natural disasters. There's an enormous influx of money into a country if it's undergoing a time of crisis.

You mentioned stability. As emerging economies stabilize and experience job growth, people will have less of a reason to go abroad to find work and send money back to their families. How will the flow of remittances change as emerging markets transition from closed to open economies?

I think migration will continue, but the patterns might shift a little bit. In some countries, we only do cross-border money transfer. In others, domestic money transfers are critical for people migrating from rural to urban areas. We see a lot of transfers to Chinese foreign students who go overseas to study with their parents in China paying their bills. So that might be a little different from what people think about in terms of conventional migrant situations, but it's a tremendous need, and again, a tremendous social benefit in terms of what education does. As our customers move up the economic ladder they often become our small business customers. Years ago, we saw a pattern emerging of people sending money from Africa to China, as Chinese nationals began to have more of a presence on the African continent. That pattern didn't exist before. It's outside the traditional view of migration.

Considering the increasing digitization of money, what do you think the future will be for cash?

I think it will continue to be critical. There's no question that in a lot of markets around the world, cash remains a dominant form of payment. And in some of these emerging economies, there are people in urban areas who live in a cash-based economy even if they have access to other technologies. For example, we worked with the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba to enable Chinese consumers to make purchases online even without a credit card. So we've set up an escrow system. If you have access the internet, but don't have a bank account or a credit card, you can make an online purchase and then you can go pay for it at a local Western Union. The product is released once the funds are received through our network. So I think we'll continue to see a lot of interesting hybrids.

Earlier this month, Western Union won two best-in-category awards for your prepaid card program at the 7th annual Prepaid Expo in Las Vegas, so congratulations on that. In terms of financial inclusion, how do prepaid cards fit in?

Thank you. Prepaid is critical, and it can help people in a number of ways. Prepaid is a great way for people who are just starting out either in life, like younger people, or people who may be getting back on their feet after having suffered some financial hardship or maybe are new to a country. They are a good option for people to get comfortable with making smart financial choices. Prepaid, of course, makes it impossible to go beyond your means, which is a good thing. Those built-in limits can be a sort of fiscal training, a way for people who are more familiar with a cash economy to get used to the "plastic economy." So prepaid is a great point of entry. Many people who have a credit card choose prepaid for any one of a variety of reasons. They may feel more secure using a prepaid card online versus a credit card. Some people like the ability to know exactly when they are getting close to their spending limit. Because there aren't the same level of background checks and credit reports required to get a prepaid card, prepaid really is a very inclusive product, and in the case of Western Union, fee-friendly.

What is Western Union's stake in the rapidly expanding mobile market, which has had a powerful effect in terms of financial inclusion?

Mobile is clearly a place we can deliver a great shared value. So far, we have launched mobile money transfer service in nine countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Canada, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, the Philippines, Tanzania and the United States, spanning relationships with 26 mobile operators who together have a subscriber base of over 285 million people. Increasingly, mobile financial services are a real game-changer around the world, particularly in developing markets.

Ultimately, whatever the method, it seems that the capability that people have to transfer money is directly proportional to financial inclusion and economic development.

When you think about how all of these platforms—the Web, mobile and certainly cash—it's clear that one of the most important things people need to do is move money, not just person to person but with financial institutions and other kinds of companies. The question becomes choice. And giving people in every market as much choice as possible is powerful. As more people move money through traditional bank accounts, prepaid cards, mobile phones, cash and eventually through technologies that are yet to come, the potential for positive social change becomes even more interesting and powerful as we look ahead.

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ABOUT TALYA BOSCH

Talya Bosch has worked in global strategic philanthropy, cause branding and corporate responsibility. As Western Union’s senior director of social ventures, she is responsible for the company’s shared value, corporate responsibility and cause branding initiatives. She manages a portfolio that spans the 485,000 locations in the 200 countries and territories where the company does business. Talya also helped conceive and implement Western Union’s award-winning Our World, Our Family® program, a five year, $50 million commitment to creating global economic opportunity. Since the program’s inception in 2007, it has won numerous awards, including the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy Excellence Award, and has touched more than 2.5 million lives. Formerly a consultant at agencies such as Cone and Porter Novelli, Talya has worked with a wide variety of global Fortune 500 and nonprofit organizations. Previously Associate Director of the Public Conversations Project, she oversaw all aspects of operations for the nonprofit, non-governmental organization, which is a globally-recognized facilitator of high-level, off-the-record dialogues among opposing leaders of some of the world’s most entrenched conflicts.

ABOUT WESTERN UNION

The Western Union Company is a leader in global payment services. Together with its Vigo, Orlandi Valuta, Pago Facil and Western Union Business Solutions branded payment services, Western Union provides consumers and businesses with multiple ways to send and receive money around the world, to send payments and to purchase money orders. As of December 31, 2011, the Western Union, Vigo and Orlandi Valuta branded services were offered through a combined network of approximately 485,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories. In 2011, The Western Union Company completed 226 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving $81 billion of principal between consumers, and 425 million business payments. For more information, visit www.westernunion.com.

NOTES

Freeland, Chrystia. "Lunch with the FT: Gloria Steinem." Financial Times. August 4, 2008. Accessed March 27, 2012.
According to the United Nations, nearly two thirds of the world’s 214 million migrants live in wealthy countries. They send more than $300 billion in remittances every year back to their home countries.

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