Jacqueline Keogh joined Western Union Business Solutions’ executive committee earlier this year, and since then has been instrumental in the roll-out of the Enterprise Digital Global Exchange (WU EDGE), a business-to-business digital platform that enables SMEs to connect and trade internationally.

Until the end of last year, Keogh was the director of global trade at Lloyds, and previously held positions at Standard Chartered, Swift and NatWest.

Keogh speaks to GTR about the company’s growth strategy, and how it’s addressing the challenges in the marketplace in an opposite way to the banks, by recruiting rather than consolidating.

GTR: What is Western Union Business Solutions and who are its clients?

Keogh: Western Union Business Solutions is the part of Western Union that focuses on corporate clients. The client base is predominantly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the lower end of corporates: these tend to be markets that are of less interest to traditional financial industry players due to the cost challenge to service.

GTR: What support do you provide clients?

Keogh: We’re constantly assessing what our clients need. Everything that we do is cross-border-based. Western Union is truly a global organisation – it’s in 200 countries and territories. The Business Solutions unit offers services in over 30 countries, and clients can send cross-border foreign exchange payments in more than 130 currencies.

We support clients with cross-border payments and the risk management associated with that – whether that is foreign exchange or hedging options. And we are expanding our proposition constantly.

We have always provided a level of cash management to our client base, and now we’ve expanded that proposition.

WU EDGE is evolving into the core digital platform on which we offer corporate services: it allows corporates to engage with each other across a shared networking platform. It allows them, for example, to issue an invoice to a counterparty, to make an integrated payment, monitor real time cash flow updates, and it gives them reporting capability.

WU EDGE is fundamentally different than what you see being offered by financial institutions. FIs today have very good online banking systems to allow corporates to deal directly with the bank – the difference with EDGE is that it’s not about the corporate dealing with the bank, it’s about the corporate dealing with another corporate. The marketplace capability allows corporates to manage their own profiles and discover business with whom they want to do business.

For a lot of corporates it’s a game changer, because many SMEs don’t have the capacity to develop the level of ERP and cash management systems that large corporates have. They also don’t have the same ability to manage their supply chains.

We’re providing them with a lot of the technology and services that larger corporates take for granted and which SMEs just don’t have today.

GTR: What needs have you identified?

Keogh: As part of the work that we’ve been doing to try to understand the client base better, we’ve realised that some of the biggest challenges that SMEs have are finding partners across borders. EDGE allows them to identify counterparts on the platform through the marketplace capability, which we’re expanding daily.

Another challenge for SMEs is the ability to manage cross-border risk: so we’re helping them with risk management, whether that’s payments, FX or hedging.

The third challenge is financing.

When we talk about serving our clients, one area we’re evaluating is trade finance. We’re not saying ‘let’s provide them with traditional trade finance’, we’re looking through the lens of   ‘how do we meet the needs of an SME client trading cross border, when that need continues to evolve and is different from the focus of today?’

We’re taking a different perspective on the needs of the clients – that’s why we’re looking across a multitude of areas, in a holistic manner.

One of the key things we’ve found is that in order to serve our client base appropriately, we actually need to expand our exporter client base, because today, a lot of our clients are import-driven. We come out of a business that’s predominantly payments and FX-focused, which drives the fact that most of your clients are going to be importers – but you need to provide them with access to exporters.

And one of the key needs of the exporters is money – so, therefore, looking at how we support this client base from a finance perspective speaks to bringing the right counterparts on our network.

GTR: What is your role in the organisation?

Keogh: I joined at a time when the organisation had really cemented its growth strategy. As part of the Western Union Business Solutions executive committee, my role is to support the business in driving forward the strategy, such as the roll-out of EDGE, the expansion of our network and what we will do to enable finance for this client base.[EDGE launched in April in six markets, and is now available in 13 markets internationally.]

We have a good team of people that understand the SME market, and we’re building by looking for people that are innovative in the way they address the problems that SMEs face. We’re putting a lot of focus on digital solutions, and also bringing in people with significant expertise in providing finance, including lending.

We’re not looking at the traditional trade propositions. We’re looking at how we meet our clients’ needs rather than how we roll out the products that exist today.