Calling it a first quarter that “fell in line with expectations” and was helped by growth in electronic payments, Western Union Co. reported $247.3 million in first-quarter net income, up 17% from $210.2 million a year earlier.

Total revenues rose 8.8%, to $1.39 billion from $1.28 billion, the Englewood, Colo.-based funds-transfer provider reported April 24. Consumer-to-consumer transactions during the quarter rose 6.8%, to 56.4 million from 52.8 million.

Hikmet Ersek, Western Union president and CEO, spoke highly of the company’s developments in electronic payments as a key to revenue growth during an earnings conference call with industry analysts. Western Union reported a 38% increase in electronic channel revenues, compared to the first quarter last year, but did not provide specific dollar amounts.

“We recently introduced WU Pay, a new and innovative electronic payment platform that allows online shoppers in the U.S. to pay for purchases from their bank accounts or in cash at Western Union agent locations,” Ersek said.

The payment option provides a comfort level for consumers who trust Western Union but generally dislike providing credit card numbers or other personal payment information online, Ersek noted.

The company also is adding WU Pay as a payment option for consumers to fund transfers on WesternUnion.com, he added.

The creation of WU Pay came shortly after Western Union made it clear during the 2011 fourth-quarter earnings conference call that it intended to make online funds transfers easier for customers (see story).

In addition, Western Union announced last month it had added an electronic bill-paying service to the WU Pay product (see story).

Ersek informed analysts that Western Union reached an historic milestone this month in establishing 500,000 agent locations around the world, up 3.1% from the 485,000 reported at the end of 2011.

“Globally, almost 60% of our Western Union agent locations are banks and post offices, but we are also widely present in retail, supermarkets, travel agents, other financial services and many more classes of trade,” Ersek added.

The company’s goal of securing more business funds transfers remains on track in light of last year’s acquisition of a portion of Travelex Global Business, Ersek said (see story).

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