Interview: Hikmet Ersek

How is Turkey seen by global financial firms looking to expand their operations in the region?

HIKMET ERSEK: Half the population in Turkey is under 30, and they are very tech-savvy – the country ranks 18th in the world by number of internet users, and 66m people have mobile phones out of a population of 77m. Banks and other financial institutions in Turkey and around the world are looking for innovative ways to attract new customers and retain current ones. Many are introducing services like mobile banking and remittances to attract these new customers. Some are partnering with money transfer firms like Western Union to offer services like cross-border money transfer. Western Union has partnerships with a number of banks in Turkey, including Garanti Bank and Akbank, to allow customers to receive money transfers at ATMs throughout the country and to manage their money transfers online. We also offer online banking with TEB and Şekerbank.

What opportunities for innovation do expat and migrant communities in Turkey present banks?

ERSEK: According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, around 5m Turks live outside of Turkey in countries like Germany, France, Russia, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and the US. Many of these expats send money home to their loved ones: in 2013 they remitted nearly $1bn. In addition, migrants from around the world are moving to Turkey, especially from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and they send money from Turkey to their home countries. Banks in Turkey and worldwide have a unique opportunity to serve these customers, with a range of services that allow them to manage their money how, when and where they want.

How can large payments companies aid global efforts against money laundering and fraud?

ERSEK: One of the most important things these companies can do is simply to uphold the highest standards of integrity, which to me means investing in compliance. Compliance and consumer protection are not just departments or sets of rules to follow; they are at the heart of what it means to be a responsible company. At Western Union, we are strengthening our programmes, hiring more people and implementing more measures in the increasingly complex, demanding and fast-changing global regulatory environment. We believe the steps we are taking are the right ones for the company, and the hope is that these investments will help us differentiate and improve our position. Together, everyone in the financial services industry must work harder than ever to protect the money transfer system from misuse and to educate customers about fraud and money laundering. They should do this not only because it is required, but because it is the right thing to do for business and for the millions of people around the globe who depend on us.

In what ways can technology help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets meet the challenges of expanding abroad?

ERSEK: Technology can help SMEs in many ways. In more developed countries like the US, SMEs often import goods and thus need to make payments in several different currencies. They need access to a variety of tools to help them pay online, track their payments and manage foreign-exchange risk. SMEs in emerging countries are often on the receiving end of cross-border transactions. They need access to technology that allows them to receive payment in whatever currency they want, and also transparency in transactions so that they can be sure they receive the amount they are supposed to. Not just SMEs can benefit from these services; so can entities like NGOs – for example, Mercy Corps, which needs to get funds to rural areas after a disaster. Technology can help them do that – delivering funds in minutes from around the globe for payout in cash.