I heard a radio spot last week from Western Union (WU) regarding singing telegrams. The first thought I had was – Western Union? Is that company still even around? A little research divulged that not only is Western Union still around, in 2010 the total revenue was $1.3 billion. If you are wondering, WU has not delivered any telegraphs since 2006.
Back in 1851 in Rochester, NY what today is Western Union was created as unified telegraph system called the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. That company competed with New York and & Western Union Telegraph company – which was purchased out of bankruptcy by Ezra Cornell (yes that Cornell). By 1855 the two companies merged into the Western Union Telegraph Company which operated in much the same way until 2006.
In 2006 Western Union announced that it would discontinue all telegram and commercial messaging services. However telegram services continued in the United States via iTelegram and other companies none of which I have ever heard of.
Yet Western Union still exists today primarily as a company that allows users to send and receive funds to others, pay bills or to purchase gift cards. Western Union also has a mobile money transfer service where a sender goes to a Western Union office and presents funds (plus fees) for either a ‘Next Day’ or ‘Money in Minutes’ service.
Personally I have never used Western Union for a telegram, money transfer or any other service. If you visit their website http://westernunion.com they note that Western Union is ‘connecting families around the world’. And that ‘Western Union helps you provide for your loved ones almost anywhere in the world. Whether it’s for education, healthcare or groceries, we offer Consumer-to-Consumer Money-Transfer Services to get resources to members of your family quickly.’
A publicly traded stock (WU on the NYSE is trading at under $ 18.00/share), just yesterday Western Union announced that it had its Expanded Payment Suite with Western Union Small Business Payments Targeting Small to Medium Sized Businesses although there were no other specifics. In fact, Western Union has a number of branded payment services that are offered through a network of ‘approximately 485,000 agent locations in 200 countries and territories’. In 2010, The Western Union Company completed 214 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide, moving $76 billion of principal between consumers, and 405 million business payments.
On December 1st WU restarted its singing telegram business http://wu-singingtelegram.com now executed as your own personal mashup duet with a choice of famous singers. At the moment it is free but it is slated to cost $ 2 or $ 3 beginning in January.
I think Western Union may offer an object lesson in morphing a dying business and finding ways to not only keep it relevant, but have it thrive. Agree or disagree?
My reaction was – who knew? Did you?