In the year ahead, I’m looking forward to seeing the entrepreneurs I’ve met and worked with in our new Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars take the stage, make their pitch, and crush it. We’ve only just opened the call for applications, but I can’t resist fast forwarding to that moment, and the satisfaction I’ll feel at knowing Western Union mentoring and guidance played a part.
Skeptical observers of Western Union—and maybe even some entrepreneurs out there—might see our relationship with Techstars and the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars as “Western Union outsourcing its innovation engine.” I get it. We’ve been around for 167 years. I’m the person who leads Western Union’s strategy and innovation groups, among other things, and I know that our venerable age results in some outdated perceptions of the company.
However, I’m also here to tell you that this is dead wrong. We’ve been innovators over the long haul. Western Union innovations have profoundly affected U.S. business and culture.
Western Union built the first telegraph line across the U.S. in 1861, issued one of the first consumer charge cards in 1914, launched the first domestic commercial satellite into orbit in 1974, and sold the first prepaid phone card in 1993. We commercialized the concept of digitizing money! (We also gave Thomas Edison one of his first jobs, as a messenger, but I digress.)
Our innovation heritage and staying power should be instructive to many emerging companies. We’re living proof of our own ability to innovate and disrupt ourselves. But our longevity and global reach—with a retail footprint that’s larger than all of Starbucks and McDonalds combined—can also throw people off. It’s hard to appreciate Western Union’s innovative culture from the outside, and many people still think of us as mainly a cash retail network for moving money.
The reality is that we’re profoundly digital. More than 70% of our digital transactions now originate on mobile devices. Last year we moved $300 billion across 200 countries and territories and 130 currencies. We just announced a collaboration with Amazon, so international customers in a number of countries can shop global and pay local. We can send money to billions of accounts and mobile wallets. Our platform sets the standard for international money movement, but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers or that we’re satisfied. We’re never satisfied—that’s how we’ve stayed innovative so long.
We see the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars as an important new way to collaborate with innovative startups in the payment tech space in a range of areas, from digital customer experience and point-of-sale solutions to fraud prevention, anti-money laundering, digital wallets and stored value, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, to name a few.
We’re excited to engage with a diverse set of applicants from all over the world, and we have more than just money as our skin in the game. We’re ready to learn as well as mentor. One of our most important cultural pillars as a company is that we believe good ideas come from everywhere. I can tell you what we’re bringing to the table: the expertise, global perspective, data insights, and energy of a company that is undergoing a huge transformation. I can’t wait to see what the startups who join Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars will bring. I know we’re going to do amazing things together.
As the accelerator application process begins, we see this as another pivotal moment for Western Union, one in a long history of innovations. We’re mobilizing some of our best experts and innovators, from engineers to business-minded mentors, who are ready to engage, to explore tough questions, and to create something new. We’re excited about how this process will accelerate our own future, too.
Applications for the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars close March 3, 2019. Start your application today. If you’d like to learn more and get feedback prior to applying, you can request Office Hours here.