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Western Union Co. is seeking to expand in the business-payment market by acquiring a Canadian foreign-exchange specialist. The deal announced today for Custom House Ltd. of Victoria, British Columbia, could open a significant new market for the Englewood, Colo.-based company: handling the international payments of small and midsize importers to their global supplier networks. "This really diversifies our client base," says Ranjana Clark, who joined Western Union a month ago as executive vice president of its global payment unit and is spearheading its global strategy. "It's a whole new product offering." Western Union, which expects to close the deal next quarter, says it would pay $370 million in cash for Custom House. Western Union is best known as a consumer-to-consumer remittance company. Such payments accounted for 84% of its $1.2 billion in first-quarter revenue. Western Union expects the acquisition to trim about a penny per share from its earnings this year and lift its revenue less than 1% from the outlook it reaffirmed last month. But the company clearly sees great potential for the business. It renamed its consumer-to-business payment operation Western Union Global Payments and put it under the direction of Clark, who was the chief marketing officer at Wachovia Corp. before Wells Fargo & Co. bought it last year. Clark says Western Union plans to focus initially on the seven core countries of Custom House's operations: Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand. "Pretty quickly thereafter" Western Union would use its global reach and resources to look at other markets in Western Europe and Asia. China and India represent "very significant incremental revenue opportunities," she says, noting that even in Custom House's established markets, such as the United States, the growth potential is significant.

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