Western Union (WU) Money Transfer Review
This Western Union review was originally written in late 2014. On May 31, 2017, it was re-written. Much of the information that previously appeared here was not up to date, and the comparison was not accurate. This review reviews the entirety of the Western Union business, with a particular focus to online money transfers for individuals.
Quick FactsPros and Cons
International Clients: ✓ Globally.
Trading via: Telephone, via branches and online.
Offices In: Headquartered in the US, with service locations all around the world.
Regulation: ✓ Numerous regulatory agencies around the world, including: Financial Market Authority (Austria), FSRA (Ireland). and most U.S states.
Fees: Calculated relatively to transfer – High Fee Warning
Promotional Code: None
Client Reviews: Thousands over several platforms
Client Rating: 8.3 on TrustPilot; 1,000 Complaints on BBB with 100% Negative Reviews; 100% Negative Reviews on Consumer Affairs.
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Very Global and accessible
Oldest Money Transfer in Existence
Publicly Traded Firm
Both bank to bank and cash pickups
Deals with regions/ currencies that other companies won’t
Expensive – High Margins Detected
Archaic Service Reported
Mixed Client Reviews, Many Complaints
Our Rating: 62%
“Largest, Most Global, But Expensive”
View Rating Breakdown
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Company Information and Credibility
Western Union is the behemoth of the money transfer business. In spite of growing competition in the past 20 years and being challenged by completely new forms of technology, this household name prevailed maintaining its leader status. It employees more than 7,000 employees across the globe and has a market cap of USD 9,000,000,000 (true for May 2017). The scariest figure about it is that fact they move more than $80,0000,0000,000 each year between customers.
Here is a screenshot from their corporate website (at https://corporate.westernunion.com/annual-report/highlights.html) with more interesting figures
Historically, it was established to provider was a telegraph services, and even back then it was an industry leader with a particular focus on innovation. Western Union had a significant role in bringing the world together as a telegraph company, and has a similar role in shaping the future in its current role as a remittances provider.
Western Union was the first company ever to send a transcontinental telegraph, and is one of few remittances providers in some of the world’s least connected regions. It boasts more than 50,000 agents, 100,000 ATM’s in 200 countries, numbers no one can compete with.
Read more about Western Union’s history on our Top 50 Historical Money Transfer Milestones List.
Numerous regulatory agencies around the world, including: Financial Market Authority (Austria), FSRA (Ireland). USA: State by State Authorization.
Western Union has got everything going for it in terms of size. It is the least likely company to go bust out of every money transfer provider in the world. On this aspect it would score 100/100.
The problem with Western Union is that its reputation isn’t spotless.
– Western Union is notorious for its high fees (more on that in the relevant section). Even the former secretary general of the UN passed criticism on the subject.
– There are more than a thousands complaints we have discovered online about the company. It’s true that we also witnessed very good reviews, but it is still somewhat concerning.
– The company is often used for money transfer scams. Although it provides a necessary infrastructure, it is often misused or abused. The company has even admitted to aid criminals and paid a big ticket fine for doing so.
Due to that we feel 70/100 is a more justified score.
There are dozens of online websites where you can find Western Union client reviews on. Western Union and even its online service WU.com is as big as all of its competitors combined. Nothing in the world says an international money transfer more than Western Union.
There’s why we expected to find huge quantities of reviews, as well as plenty of complaints. We just didn’t realise how many of its reviews will be complaints.
We have chosen to have a comprehensive look at all the platforms and aggregate scores. It is not automatically processed, and that means this date will be true for May 31, 2017:
|Website||Country||# Reviews||% Negative||Notes|
|Consumer Affairs||USA||130||99%||A lot of heart breaking stories about money being indefinitely delayed or never reaching its destination.|
|ProductReview.com.au||Australia||118||98%||A lot of heart breaking stories about money being indefinitely delayed or never reaching its destination.|
|Yelp (for SF location)||USA||54||97%|
|BBB||USA||53||94%||In addition to these reviews there are more than 1,000 complains about Western Union to be found on that website. Most of which were resolved to the satisfaction of the BBB but still they gave them D+ rating.|
|Trust Pilot||UK/USA||4350||12%||Out of the last 10 pages (100+ reviews) there are far more negative experiences than positive experiences.|
|Grand Total|| ||4780||18%|
Although the figures aren’t that bad (18% is still a higher complaint/compliment ratio than with our best rated providers), we take them with a grain of salt. The reviews on platforms outside of Trust Pilot are so convincingly negative… and in addition to that Trust Pilot has been inconsistent. In late 2014 there were 60%+ complaints. In the past 3 months again, 60% or even 70% highly negative.
Among the negative reviews we identified a few positive ones that discussed
- Better rates than banks
- Easy transfer tracking
- Accessible offices
Among the negative reviews (we had plenty to select from) we read the following:
- Horrible service
- Lost transfers
- Rude client support
- Expensive (sometimes unbelievably expensive even)
- Archaic company structure
Western Union has hundreds of complaints to be found online about almost every aspect of its services. Some are the just within the normal range of complaints (people who were not successful at using the service and the like), and others are making pretty bold accusations of the company missing out on deadlines and providing horrible service.
On the other hand, there are thousands of happy customers that left their positive feedback on one particular platform.
We give Western Union average rating on this part.
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Exchange Rate & Fees
Fees are variable and often come by surprise. Western Union’s website admits that “Fees start at $4.99 to send up to $20 online.” But they never explain what the full range of fees is, on our testing we have been charged as much as $160 to send $4,000 abroad! (through debit card funding). That is absolutely ridiculous and much higher than its competitors which are charging at around 2% for debit card usage and usually not additional wire fees.
For mobile transfers, the fee is more reasonable but still very high: $1 for up to $10 sent.
Our research, and the feedback of hundreds of users, indicates that Western Union’s quoted exchange rates are often poor. It is possible to get cheaper rates even from banks in certain cases and currency pairs, while it is sensible to believe companies like Transferwise will beat their quote consistently.
$1 to $7,500, or currency equivalent, based on the online calculator. It is safe to assume that if you need a bigger amount sent, you will be either moved to WU Business Services or get higher permissions on your account upon a compliance check.
The minimum amount to transfer online is $20 or equivalent.
Western Union money transfer is notorious for relatively high margins. While in many cases, and particularly on cash to cash transfers into areas where remittance providers are scarce. Even the former secretary general of the UN has proposed to look into this phenomena carefully because high remittances cost lead to a direct impact on some of the poorer countries in the world.
Example: Charging twice as much as Azimo on transfer from UK to Philippines.
You can view more similar examples on the World Bank remittances website.
The costs of sending money even through more popular corridors is extremely high in comparison to some of the competitors.
From WU.com’s online calculator taken 16:04 UK time with a real mid-market rate of 1.35 USD to AUD, these are the rates that were provided:
These rates represent a margin of 3-4% just on the exchange rate, while the fee for a Debit Card payment represents additional 4%! In comparison to that view Currencyfair’s online calculator below:
The rates offered by Currencyfair was 1.3325 which represents a margin of just over 1% which is far more reasonable for this corridor.
Although some may say comparing Western Union’s rates to the pure-online providers isn’t fair because WU has far more costs in the form of thousands of offices and hundreds of thousands of employees, we say that Western Union should renovate their model and adjust their pricing to 2017 before it may be too late for them.
Exchange Rates & Fees Rating
Global Reach & Service
- Dedicated Dealer: No.
- Offices: Worldwide, really. 7,000 employees and agents.
- Ways to approach: Email, Telephone, Multiple branches.
- Translations: Yes.
- Accepts clients: Worldwide.
- Currencies Handled: 143, more than anyone else.
- Client reviews: Claim service is horrible.
On one hand Western Union is the most global company we tested. With offices operating throughout the globe since the 19th century, Western Union had their role in expanding world economy, and still do.
On the other hand the service has many complaints about, and their rates are infuriating.
Global Reach Score
Western Union offers forward contracts, spot contracts, and perhaps others (it’s very hard to tell from their web copy). But these are generally made available only to business clients.
Western Union’s currency transfer app may be their brightest facet. While it’s still expensive to use, the experience is supposedly very smooth. Their online reviews on Play Store are glowing.
Western Union doesn’t supports either corporate clients on its Business Service unit, or remittances senders. It is not tailored for what most of our readers require, medium to large transfers to a bank account overseas.
Special Features Score
- Credibility Score - 70%
- Client Feedback - 60%
- Fees, Exchange Rates - 60%
- Global Reach, Availability, Service - 60%
- Added Values - 60%
Western Union is the largest contender in the international money transfer business since its inception. It has wider reach than any of its competitors. If you need to be using the company's service because other remittances providers aren't able to help you, then you should go ahead and do it.
If you need to send a money transfer for a bank account, and wish to do so online, you have much better options to choose from on our website. Western Union is simply put extremely expensive. High fees, and poor exchange rates. If you are a corporate clients you might find much better fee structure on the WU Business Service unit, but if you are a private client you better avoid.
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