I was talking with Marcy Phelps the other day about, of all things, how Western Union thinks strategically. Yes, we're geeks.
Think about it... Western Union started out in 1851 as a telegraph company, the "New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company". But even then, they identified themselves as a communications company, so they were able to adapt to new technology.
They introduced the first stock ticker, in 1869 (already thinking about additional uses for technology)
In 1914, they launched the first consumer charge card
They pioneered the first commercial satellite in the US, in 1974
And they now identify their mission as:
"We offer one of the easiest ways for families and friends to send money and stay connected almost anywhere in the world."
So, they offer
- Money orders
- Money wires (including FROM a mobile phone!)
- The ability to make regular payments to utility bills, auto loans, mortgages, etc.
- Debit cards
- And they even rent cell phones for the countries they serve. I
can rent a phone from the US that'll work in Mexico, for example.
So, when I hear people asking me whether the Web threatens my business model, or librarians, or civilization as we know it, I just point to Western Union. They were bleeding edge back in 1851, and they are still going strong, despite enormous changes in their competitive environment.