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Western Union Could Double China Agent Locations — Wall Street Journal

Western Union Co. could more than double its number of agent locations in China and also hopes to offer domestic payment services, expanding from the cross-border payment services it currently offers in the country, the company’s chief executive said Thursday.

The comments come as foreign companies continue to face obstacles to expanding in China’s financial services market, largely due to regulatory restrictions. They also come as a growing numbers of Chinese citizens working and studying overseas add to demand for payment services in the country.

Western Union has more than 31,000 locations at partner banks in China where customers can make money transfers, and it aims to expand its potential customer base by increasing that number, especially outside of more developed urban areas.

“We really want to be in the rural areas,” Western Union President and Chief Executive Hikmet Ersek said in a recent interview. The company’s future number of locations in China “could be 50,000, 100,000…we are going that direction,” he said, but declined to give a time frame.

Western Union is also working to expand the availability of its payment services through automatic teller machines or directly from customers’ bank accounts, said Drina Yue, Western Union’s senior vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.

Western Union hopes to work with its local bank partners to offer money transfers within China, since its license currently covers only transfers into and out of the country, Mr. Ersek said, without giving a time frame for that goal.

China’s financial services sector remains tightly regulated, especially for foreign companies, said Dave Carini, managing director at research firm Maverick China Research. “Most foreign companies that provide payment processing, remittances, and related services would all like to be doing more in China than they’re currently allowed to do,” he said. “I think Western Union is in the same boat.”

Western Union has nine bank partners in China, including Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., Postal Savings Bank of China and China Everbright Bank Co. The company is interested in partnering with other “banks with more locations” and that have a reach in rural China, Mr. Ersek said.

Mr. Ersek also said Western Union is looking for acquisition opportunities in areas including money-transfer services for consumers and between businesses, and in the stored-value payment card sector. He declined to elaborate on possible targets.

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