After 20 years spent focusing on financial crimes investigations in the Secret Service, Phil Hopkins, Vice President of Global Security at Western Union (WU), found transitioning to the financial area of the private sector to be pretty painless. “A lot of what we do is engaging with law enforcement, so I am still able to maintain and enhance those relationships and work with the state and federal law enforcement agencies much as I had done when I was in the Secret Service,” says Hopkins. “I really like that part of what I do.”
The Global Security team’s mission at Western Union is to protect the brand and its consumers, support the business, and provide a safe and secure work environment for employees. A big chunk of meeting the first two goals involves cultivating those relationships with law enforcement and letting them know his team is there to help with outreach programs that educate both law enforcement and consumers on current email and phone scams. “The insight we offer the business is to look at things from a different perspective and point out potential issues that the business may not be considering,” Hopkins says.
For money service businesses (MSBs) like Western Union, the issue of “de-risking” is a challenge. Hopkins says that since the money service business is looked at as high-risk, many banks are now considering reducing banking services to MSBs. “We’re working to give these banks comfort that Western Union has a strong Compliance department,” says Hopkins. “We believe the strength of our Compliance department is now a long-term competitive advantage for our company in this regard. Western Union is the industry leader because we have 500,000 locations in over 200 countries and territories. We’re essential for people who do not have bank accounts or who need to send money home to their families in other countries.”
However, along with the positive side is the potential for unsavory characters to attempt to use Western Union as well. “The global footprint of our networks combined with the vast number of transactions we process has led to some compliance challenges, which is why we have instituted sophisticated and effective controls,” Hopkins says.
Hopkins’ team works with the WU Office of Consumer Protection to educate consumers by making information on consumer scams readily available on their website. “We go out and speak to law enforcement and high-risk groups, such as the elderly, and educate them,” he says. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to try to protect our vulnerable populations from these scams, and one way is education. We have an excellent team focusing on consumer protection.”
Support from the C-suite and the Board of Directors have been instrumental in building the security department. “In the last several years, we’ve been able to increase our global presence,” Hopkins says. “As a U.S.-based financial institution, we probably have, if not the best, one of the better global footprints as it relates to our team members locations. We’re hiring in numerous places around the world, and we never would have been able to do that without that commitment and trust from the C-suite.”
Because they work hard to make sure they are part of the solution and not part of the problem, the perception of Hopkins’ team from the law enforcement side is positive as well. “We know we’re doing a lot of good work because of the feedback from various agencies and law enforcement communities telling us how important our relationship is to their investigations,” says Hopkins.
Security’s value is measured by internal and external feedback. “I know we’re making a difference as a security group because of what we hear,” Hopkins says. “Our work with Homeland Security Investigations has actually driven criminal organizations that wanted to use Western Union as a payment mechanism away. That’s because of our ability to communicate directly with the agencies. The exchange of information is critical. It’s important to note that we do so only in compliance with financial privacy laws and our contractual privacy promise to our customers.”
The word is definitely getting out among criminals to avoid Western Union. Hopkins says his team’s work with law enforcement has helped with situations worldwide, including recent child exploitation cases in the Philippines and Jamaican lottery scams in Costa Rica. “Because of some of the controls we’ve put in place, we have made it more difficult for bad guys to use Western Union,” says Hopkins. “Feedback is how I gauge our success and our value to the company. I’m able to go to the executives and show them these documents and emails acknowledging our efforts are paying off. We may not be perfect, but we know our work is making a difference.”
- Annual Revenue: $5.7 Billion
- Security Budget: $9.7 Million
- Brand Protection/Consumer Fraud
- Employee Safety/Travel Security