Western Union's wires don't carry telegrams anymore STOP But they keep on humming with international money transfers STOP The firm has an agent network of 485,000 locations in 200 countries worldwide that allow individuals and business customers to transfer money or make payments electronically. The pioneering company has taken advantage of technological advances and rolled with the changes since it was founded in 1851. Starting out as a messaging medium, it then added the US's first stock ticker, helped standardize timekeeping nationally, debuted an early charge card and the singing telegram, and finally shifted to money transfer services.
Boasting an average of nearly 20 money transfers every second, Western Union carries out some 600 million payment transactions each year. Some are consumer-to-business transfers, but consumer-to-consumer transfers account for more than 80% of the company's revenues. Its consumer-to-consumer transfer business relies heavily on immigrants who often send money between countries.
With the exception of recession-plagued 2009, the money transfer market has been growing and Western Union's business has followed suit. Although its revenues dipped that year due to the overall global economic downturn, they rebounded in 2010. Revenue increased by more than 5% in 2011. Consumer-to-consumer transaction growth continued to drive success for Western Union in 2011.
While consumer-to-consumer business is key to Western Union, the company is trying to bolster consumer-to-business transfers. Two recent acquisitons in that segment have helped boost overall revenues for the company. The additions also helped drive international growth. In 2009 Western Union bought Canadian business-to-business payment provider Custom House (renamed Western Union Business Solutions), which operates globally. Two years later, Western Union acquired the international business payments arm of Travelex for some $975 million. The deal expanded its business-to-business platform to 16 countries.
Western Union also is looking at expanding into new types of service offerings such as prepaid debit cards and mobile money transfer services. With most of the company's transactions made in person, it is developing alternatives to its traditional wire transfers. In the US and UK, the company offers goCASH, which enables customers to purchase money transfers in pre-set amounts at retail points of sale, then complete the transfer by phone or Internet. In 2012 Western Union also launched its WU online payment platform that allows customers to pay online merchants.
Another way that the company is growing its business is through loyalty cards, which offer faster service at the point of sale and, in some countries, cash back or reduced fees; approximately a third of its consumer-to-consumer money transfers are made by customers with a loyalty card and that number is growing.
Western Union also is trying to persuade banks to become a partner, instead of a rival. The company has an agreement with Fidelity National Information Services to offer its international transfer services to that firm's 8,500 bank clients. Also, big banks like US Bancorp and Fifth Third Bank have chosen Western Union to handle money transfers. In 2010 Western Union inked its first bank agreement in China.
Western Union has operations in more than 200 countries and territories; some 85% of its agent locations (including those of subsidiaries such as Orlandi Valuta and Vigo in Latin America) are outside the US. The company has made several acquisitions in places like Panama to boost its international presence in recent years. In addition to expanding in the Latin American market, the company has been focusing on growth in such areas as India and China. Its international growth strategy has included alliances with postal services, banks, and retailers in many countries. Western Union has been expanding its reach in Europe with the acquisition of the money transfer businesses. In 2011 Western Union acquried Finint, a leading money transfer agent in Europe. – less