Interview: How 167-Year-Old Money Exchange Western Union Keeps Evolving For New Generations

Interview: How 167-Year-Old Money Exchange Western Union Keeps Evolving For New Generations
Banks, Insurance & Financial Services

PSFK speaks to Mike Hafer, SVP, Marketing and Field Execution, North America for Western Union about how his company is building a future-proof, multigenerational strategy

Penn Whaling
  • 1 december 2018

For nearly two centuries, consumers have been using Western Union to securely exchange money and and other communications. As the financial services industry increasingly moves online, legacy brands like Western Union feel the pressure to keep up with increasingly expectations for frictionless, mobile experiences. Rather than simply shift to a high-tech, millennial-friendly system, though, the company has chosen to embrace its multi-generational audience, thoughtfully building products and marketing campaigns that can speak to users of any age.

PSFK spoke to Mike Hafer, SVP, Marketing and Field Execution, North America, about how Western Union is accounting for demographics in an attempt to build future-proof financial services technology.

PSFK: How are other brands in the financial services industry failing to develop age-inclusive product and service offerings?

Mike Hafer: Brands are understandably looking to capitalize on growing demographic segments, particularly millennials and Gen Z, but focusing too heavily on one segment limits inclusion. For example, many financial services companies are tailoring their products and services to cater to millennials, leaving out generations that haven’t always operated in a digital-first environment without comparative servicing. When we look at Western Union’s demographic breakdown, we’ve found that nearly 40% of U.S. domestic customers are more than 50 years in age—so to exclude this generation would be a huge loss.

The increase in mobile device usage in recent years has created an opportunity for new, mobile-first brands to emerge, especially in financial services as consumer banking and finance becomes decentralized. In person-to-person money transfer, many players have found success carving out a demographic niche, tailoring their products and services to cater to younger generations. But, when you consider the varying demographics that depend on financial services technology, it’s clear they’re making an oversight. Western Union is investing heavily in digital growth while simultaneously maintaining our retail cash-to-cash business to service.

How did Western Union realize there was an opportunity to develop offerings that were multi-generational? What made you decide to look beyond the millennial demographic?

Western Union has always placed importance on catering to all generations, demonstrated by its all-encompassing business strategy that enables customers to access its services at physical locations, online and through its mobile app. This distinguishes Western Union from other players in the financial services space that are not as seamlessly accessible in customers’ everyday lives.

Once Western Union looked at its U.S. domestic customer base, the benefits of looking beyond the millennial demographic were evident. For example, on average close to 40% of U.S. domestic existing customers are more than 50 years in age and usage for U.S. outbound existing senders who are more than 50 years of age is about 1.3 times more than other age groups. Those statistics are a notable proof point to Western Union’s inclusive strategy.

What makes Western Union’s products and offerings multi-generational? How do you ensure that they meet the needs of and appeal to different groups?

Western Union understands the importance of maintaining a multi-channel approach to servicing a multi-generational user base. Our products are multi-generational because we’ve successfully been able to connect the digital with the physical, which includes a robust digital footprint, settlement, treasury and compliance infrastructure, and a vast global network of over half a million locations, and the ability to send money to billions of consumer accounts and mobile wallets.

To appeal to the needs of different demographics, Western Union is actively pursuing digital innovation enterprise-wide, increasing consumers’ choice of money transfer options and making it easy for consumers to access our services. In 2018, customers are looking for different options—whether it is bank-to-bank, web, app-to-cash or from an ATM/kiosk, Western Union is one of the largest money transfer services offering fast, reliable and easy-to-use digital platforms to send money.

In a new era of digital, it’s important to note that Western Union understands the importance of brick-and-mortar components as it relates to customer convenience through retail agents with companies such as Albertsons, Walgreens and Kroger just to name a few.

How did you make the technology inclusive? Did you have to make any adaptations in order to make it more user-friendly for consumers who are not digital natives? What solutions did you look to beyond technology?

To make technology inclusive, we feel that it must be customized to various demographics’ needs and wants. Many people think of Western Union as primarily a cash and retail business, but over the past decade it has been undergoing a dramatic digital transformation to bolster the company’s portfolio of offerings. In fact, 70% of Western Union’s digital transactions globally now originate on a mobile device.

At Western Union, our goal is to remove barriers so that consumers can conveniently and reliably move money—no matter how they choose to transact. For example, we offer the ability to transact digitally via mobile app, mobile web and desktop. We also have multiple features within our digital services to allow for choice—such as fingerprint ID or manual password entry, and the ability to use our digital products and services in multiple languages.

In 2011, Western Union began a new chapter with the launch of Western Union Digital in San Francisco, where the company’s innovation lab has incubated its mobile and Web initiatives. In 2017, the WU mobile app became one of the most widely used international money transfer apps, which is now able to send money to over 200 countries and territories in 130 currencies, and to billions of consumer bank accounts. In 2017, Western Union’s global platform processed 32 transactions every second and moved more than $300 billion of principal for businesses and consumers. Essentially, we adapt with our customers.

What were some surprising commonalities—and key differences—among the ways in which the different generations use your products?

We thought it was interesting to find that there was somewhat of a 50/50 split among Baby boomers/Gen Xers (45.9%) as compared to the millennials (49.6%) when it comes to digital usage. We challenge assumptions that any generation wouldn’t necessarily adapt well to digital since they haven’t always had access to this type of technology. However, the data shows that this is not accurate and instead, financial services brands mustn’t overlook any generation as they build out these types of offering—multi-generational audiences are utilizing digital offerings, and brands may be missing out on a chance to capitalize on that demographic.

What has the consumer response been to your efforts to create a more inclusive customer experience?

Continued adoption of use of Western Union digital channels demonstrates the positive consumer response we have seen as we innovate and provide even greater convenience and choice for consumers; our digital business has shown continued growth.

We have seen this adoption and growth through consumers who use features like “Send Again,” which enables consumers to simply enter their fingerprint ID or password, and select from a list of recipients they have sent money to previously, expediting the speed and ease of their transaction.

In addition, we are accelerating the expansion of our digital footprint by rapidly deploying digital services across major regional economic hubs of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

What is Western Union’s strategy for maintaining multi-generational appeal in the future, staying accommodating and nimble as new generations emerge and older ones live longer?

Western Union’s digital business has been growing for many years, and WU.com’s annual revenue in 2017 was over $400 million—larger than many of the digital startups in this category.

Western Union’s fintech ambition and bold bet on digital transformation go even further, strategically connecting the WU mobile app and WU.com with the company’s vast retail network of over half a million agent locations—more than all the Starbucks and McDonalds combined. Few companies command this level of global brand recognition.

We will continue to test and adopt technology as customer preferences evolve and monitor new advancements in technology in order to enhance the customer experience.

Western Union

Western Union is investing heavily in digital growth while simultaneously maintaining its commitment to serving all of its customers equally. For more ideas from similar inspiring brands, see PSFK’s reports or newsletters.

For nearly two centuries, consumers have been using Western Union to securely exchange money and and other communications. As the financial services industry increasingly moves online, legacy brands like Western Union feel the pressure to keep up with increasingly expectations for frictionless, mobile experiences. Rather than simply shift to a high-tech, millennial-friendly system, though, the company has chosen to embrace its multi-generational audience, thoughtfully building products and marketing campaigns that can speak to users of any age.

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