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Category Archives: Who can beat Western Union?

Western Union: permanent leader of international money transfer?

Western Union gorilla

“… long, sorry decline has left the 140-year-old company a shell of its former self. Today, it is fighting for its very survival. Western Union fell victim to technological advances…”

Associated Press, 1991

Reading current reporting about Western Union’s role in international remittances could make us think that the company has been a successful monopoly of this space forever, but, now, with the arrival of some disruptive innovation (“P2P”, “Bitcoin-blockchain”, “Social”, “Mobile”…), there is a real danger of its imminent demise. In reality, Western Union’s subsidiary, Western Union Financial Services Inc., began providing international money transfers in mid 80s when deregulation allowed a previously domestic service to expand internationally. By mid 90s, Western Union’s coverage included major remittance destinations like China. In those first ten years of its money transfer business, Western Union’s parent (renamed into New Valley in 1991) had plenty of upheavals going near or into a bankruptcy. After changing hands few times, the money transfer subsidiary was resurrected as an independent entity in 2006. Western Union’s stock performance has been highly volatile ever since with 20% decline in price since IPO, dwarfed by the overall market:

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TransferWise: Rebel, What is Your Cause?

TransferWise Money Transfer: billboard

Tale of Two TransferWises

“Revolution is a tough business. You can‘t make it wearing white gloves and with clean hands”

– Lenin

TransferWise’s origins are usually described like this. Entrepreneur from Estonia, who was the first Skype employee, got tired of paying huge fees to banks for transferring money from UK to Estonia. So he came up with a brilliant idea of matching remittance senders and receivers in the same country. TransferWise was launched with an office sauna and employees who don’t mind getting undressed to take on banks, evil entities with no value for consumers. The startup got funding from crème de la crème of investors like Peter Thiel, Richard Branson, Ben Horowitz, becoming the only “unicorn” in consumer cross-border transfers with $1.6B valuation:

Remittance providers - Latest Market Cap or Valuation, Nov 2017

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Does Bitcoin/Blockchain make sense for international money transfers?

Bitcoin money transfer: competing with fast elephant

“I think we will know when bitcoin has reached prime time when it is transferring more value each day than Western Union or Money Gram…”

Roger Ver, November 2013

Bitcoin money transfer is usually discussed in either sensational or downright misleading way. There is a significant category of Bitcoin or, currently more popular, blockchain stakeholders and observers who seem to be completely vested in this innovative product’s awesome potential and are unable to entertain a deviating opinion. This very smart and capable, but, unfortunately, close-minded group believes that Bitcoin cancels a need for regulation and would soon destroy Visa, Western Union and “banks.” Articles written for and by such audience are easy to find, and we will not link to them to avoid enabling such either outrageously ignorant or deceptive opinions.

Rational view of Bitcoin/Blockchain for sending money

In this context, we are always grateful to find discussion about Bitcoin/Blockchain for remittances which attempts to be more objective. Here are some examples: Bootstrappers guide to bitcoin remittances, Tackling bitcoin price swings OR

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