Western Union and Ripple have a long and episodic relationship. Western Union is an American financial services and communications company and its absolutely huge with 550.000+ agent locations and 150.000 ATMs and kiosks around the globe in more than 200 countries. It moved more than $300 billion in principal around the world in 2017, transacting in nearly 130 currencies.
Exactly one year ago, on February 14th 2018, WU CEO Hikmet Ersek mentioned that the company was:
“Experimenting with Ripple for settling transactions and for capital optimization. Western Union is also testing Ripple’s native currency, XRP, a spokesperson confirmed“.
Ripple also shared the news, which was met with excitement by the XRP community.
Four months into the pilot (June 2018), WU CEO suprisingly told Fortune that:
“We are always criticized that Western Union is not cost-efficient, blah blah blah, but we did not see that part of the efficiency yet during our tests. The practical matter is it’s still too expensive”.
Ersek, who was in New York to give a speech at the Economic Club of New York said that he didn’t “want to kill” the blockchain trial and that Western Union would still consider using XRP for settlement if Ripple could demonstrate a real efficiency improvement over its current system.
Asheesh Birla — Ripple’s senior vice president of product — told Fortune that it’s not surprising that Western Union has not seen tremendous improvement since it has only actually made 10 transactions using XRP.
“If they were to move volume at scale, then maybe you would see something, but with 10, it’s not surprising that they’re not seeing cost savings. They do millions of transactions a month, and I’m not surprised that with 10 transactions it didn’t have earth-shattering results”.
Half a year later (December 2018) and Odilon Almeida, Western Union’s Global Money Transfer President, stated that:
“If we one day feel like it’s the right strategy to introduce cryptocurrencies to our platform, technology-wise it’s just one more currency. I think cryptocurrency may become one more option of currency, or assets, around the globe to be exchanged between people and businesses. If that happens, we will be ready to launch.”
And along comes the latest development, Molly Shea, general manager of Asia Pacific from Western Union, joined Analyse Asia to discuss the business and distribution footprint of the company across Asia Pacific on February 9th, 2019. When asked “what are your current views towards blockchain and its applications to remittances?” the reply was:
“We believe physical currency as we know it today is not going away. Cash is still the predominant form of payment in most of the developing world and its difficult to see that changing quickly. Its too early to predict the impact of virtual currency on the money transfer business, it really is, but you’ve got to be setting it as it evolves. But as the company that invented the concept of digitizing money, WU is well positioned to connect the cash and the digital world for our consumers. We will continue to leverage our capabilities where we see those opportunities. We are open to exploring new business opportunities particulary those that give us the opportunity to offer more choices to our customers. So Blockchain and the cryptocurrency space is rapidly evolving and we continue to explore possible applications for our business. As some examples we are piloting some settlement tests with Ripple in certain corridors, I think the USD and the MXN as one example and really learning about possible opportunities. The options that we choose will need to be legitimate and widely acceptable for consumer use.”
So, Western Union is continuing to pilot Ripple tech in at least one corridor but there seems to be some concern regarding the legitimacy of the technology and crypto in general. This seems to correspond and go hand in hand with the current status of banks and institutions that are waiting for regulatory clarity. What effect will regulation have can not be known with certainty but one thing is for sure. It is necessary!