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Connecting the Digital and Physical Worlds of Money
By Brad Windbigler, SVP Treasury, Western Union
It’s still early days and things are evolving. We’re very open to the future potential and we’re testing blockchain-related technologies on several fronts, including transaction processing, settlement, working capital optimization, regulatory tech and digital identity. The scale and efficiency of our platform set a high bar, but we continue to explore opportunities to reduce costs and improve the customer experience.
We believe fiat currency as we know it today isn’t going away, and physical cash is still the predominant form of payment in many parts of the world. That said, we’re very open to the future potential of crypto and blockchain and we’re evaluating use cases in our ecosystem. For example, blockchain may have applicability in improving the identity confirmation and regulatory compliance aspects of cross-border transfers. Ultimately, currency is currency. If the regulatory controls, convenience and broad customer demand for digital currency were there, we could move quickly to incorporate it just like all the other currencies we support around the globe.
We’re not inclined to comment on what various partners or competitors might be doing. Many people think of Western Union as mainly a cash retail business, but the reality is that we’re profoundly digital. Over the past decade we’ve been undergoing a dramatic technology transformation, driving a multi-layer digital strategy and transforming our network into a true platform. We’re leveraging our platform in innovative ways to solve the complexities of international money movement.
Q: When will your digital overhaul be complete and are you moving fast enough?
Our digital momentum and traction with key partners speak volumes about our ability to change and reinvent ourselves. Our transformation is more than a one-time technology overhaul. It’s an ongoing strategic initiative that is core to our ability to innovate. We’re proving that start-ups don’t have a monopoly on innovation.
While our digital business has grown in double digits for many quarters, and now 70 percent of our digital transactions originate on mobile devices, the bigger point is that Western Union is uniquely able to connect the digital and physical worlds of money. We set the standard for money movement on a global scale. Last year, our cross-border platform processed $300 billion across 130 currencies, with an average of 32 transactions every second. We’re well positioned to connect the cash and digital worlds across platforms, devices, borders and currency types. With over half a million retail locations—more than Starbucks and McDonalds combined—and the ability to send funds to billions of accounts and mobile wallets, Western Union is a ubiquitous on-ramp and off-ramp for global money movement.
Q: What do you see as the “next big thing” in money transfers and payments?
Increasingly, we’re opening our platform—meaning our APIs, technology stack, foreign exchange and settlement engine, compliance infrastructure, retail network and robust digital footprint—to third-party providers.Our collaborations with Amazon and Safaricom are two recent examples.You’ll see us continue to leverage our platform in ways that might surprise longtime observers of this iconic company. We’re showing up differently in the market.