Western Union’s re-entry into Cuba

Western Union’s re-entry into Cuba

Earlier this month, Western Union announced that it was resuming its service between the US and Cuba, bringing an end to an outage lasting three months. It’s the latest disruption caused by issues outside of the payments player’s control that have affected its ability to provide what is a critical service in the country.

Western Union once again resumes Cuban remittance service
A recent history of remittances on the US-Cuba corridor

Western Union’s latest service reinstatement sees the company once again support remittances into the country, assisted by current processing partner Orbit. At present, the service only supports money transfers to consumers, which can be received into bank accounts or debit cards. US-based customers can send up to $2,000 per transaction, which will be delivered on the same day. 

The move ends a three-month period when Western Union was unable to serve the corridor following a cyberattack in late January. While the precise details of the attack have not been made public, it impacted government systems and the country’s financial infrastructure, with Cuba’s state-run Banco Metropolitano and Fincimex also reporting outages.

Prior to the attack, Western Union had only been serving the US-Cuba corridor continuously for a year, after the lifting of US sanctions allowed it to begin serving the country again for the first time in two years. Western Union previously ceased operations in Cuba in November 2020, including the closure of 400 cash pay-out locations, when US sanctions saw the blacklisting of its then processing partner Fincimex.

With no other major cross-border payments players providing money transfers on the US-Cuba corridor, Western Union represents a critical service for Cuban residents. Western Union’s North America and Latin America President Rodrigo Garcia Estebarena described the company’s service on this “vital corridor” as a “crucial connection between those living in the US and their family in Cuba”. 

During the most recent outage, those wishing to send money have had to make use of more expensive, less reliable and slower solutions that typically operate on a more informal basis. This has reportedly included private companies taking Zelle payments in the US and delivering cash in Cuba for a fee of around 10%, which represents a significant premium on the amounts charged by Western Union.

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