Ghana in mid-March became the first African country to be hooked onto the global instant money transfer system run by the US-based Western Union Financial Services International (WUFSI).
With 22,500 money transfer locations worldwide, Western Union operates the largest money-transfer service in the world.
The Ghanaian operation has been arranged by Progeny Ventures Inc, which is based in Los Angeles and is Ghanaian-owned. Handling the Ghanaian end of the operation is the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) in Accra, through its 29 branches.
The other money-transfer services hitherto available to Ghanaians (especially those run by local Ghanaian banks) take weeks and even months for transfers to reach beneficiaries in Ghana. But Western Union promises that its service takes only 15 minutes.
For example, a Ghanaian living in London or New York wishing to send money to his or her father in Kumasi need only walk to one of the many Western Union outlets in London or New York. He hands in his money and pays the required service charge. During the next minute, and in front of him, the outlet phones central control in London or New York, which in turn notifies the ADB headquarters in Accra.
If the beneficiary in Ghana can be reached by phone or fax, the whole transaction will take less than 15 minutes to finish, phone lines permitting. Either the sender himself will notify the beneficiary, or the sender will instruct Western Union at the time of the transaction (at a small cost) to inform the beneficiary to contact the ADB branch nearest to him to collect the money. As a security measure, he will be required either to show proof of identification or to answer a test question.
On the whole, if the ADB lives up to the speed and efficiency on which Western Union has built its name over the years, the Ghana operation will give local competitors a good run for their money.
The Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) which has run a similar service for years, looks particularly vulnerable, as its service takes much longer in reaching beneficiaries. Though hugely improved from its early days when transfers took months to go through, the GCB service still takes weeks to reach beneficiaries.
Western Union offers instant transfer service through its 22,500 outlets in the US, Canada, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and Asia.
Until mid-March, when Ghana joined the system, Western Union had no operations in Africa. The Ghana service will handle...