Wired for Growth: Western Union Continues to Innovate

Money transferring specialist Western Union (NYSE: WU) has a long history of reinvention. From its origins in telegraph services, the company quickly expanded into cross-country cash transfers and has kept up with the technological evolution of that service ever since.

World currencies

Image source: Getty Images

At the end of September, Western Union held an Investor Day, where the company shared its news and updates with analysts and shareholders. What caught my attention -- besides its strong commitment to paying investors through dividends as usual -- was its plan to keep innovating, which includes bolstering cross-border offerings, making investments in newer technology, and committing to long-term growth.

Based on what I saw in the reports from Investor Day, I'm more excited than ever to be a Western Union shareholder. Here are three reasons why Western Union is a keeper in my long-term portfolio and could be a long-term keeper for your portfolio as well.

1. Solid financial footing with an investor focus

Western Union is proof that a company can reward shareholders while keeping a solid financial footing.

In August, Western Union reported a second quarter earnings per share miss and a revenue beat. When considering this alongside the other recent mixed quarters at Western Union, it might seem like the company isn't at the top of its game. But digging a little deeper into its finances paints a more compelling picture. Last year, Western Union reported revenue of $5.6 billion, and gave over $740 million back to investors through dividends and share repurchases. The company has allocated about $900 million for dividends and share repurchases in 2019. And there's more to come: at Investor Day, the company forecasted that it will return roughly $2.5 to $3 billion to shareholders through these methods over the next three years.

Meanwhile, Western Union earns solid marks from external rating organizations. RapidRatings, which ranks companies according to their financial and core health, and assigns them a financial health rating, gave Western Union a financial health rating of 81 out of a possible 100 as of August 3. This makes Western Union in the low default for short term risk, according to RapidRatings, and sets the company ahead of the overall business products and services sector, which has a financial health rating of 58.1. The company's rating puts it in the medium financial health range.

2. Western Union is running for the border ... and crossing it often

Today, Western Union can facilitate global peer-to-peer payments in more countries than ever before. The company offers sending capabilities in 38 countries and receiving capabilities in 200 countries and territories, both in person and through the web or its mobile app.

But the company's commitment to innovation goes beyond expanding access to peer-to-peer money transfers. At Investor Day, Western Union highlighted the opportunities the company is harnessing to partner with other companies to facilitate these companies' payments and money transfers across borders. These partnerships cast a wide net that allows for money to more easily move between consumers and businesses alike.

Western Union is primed and ready to continue its expansion into untapped territories and markets, and to partner with companies as well as individual customers. This spells fantastic growth and great advantages for investors.

3. The Amazon connection

An estimated 105 million American homes use Amazon Prime, and most of these purchased are conducted without cash. But this year, Amazon set out to reach customers that prefer to use cash. To reach this demographic, Amazon has partnered with Western Union on a new project called Amazon PayCode. 

PayCode is a payment system that lets Amazon customers shop for items online and then pay for them offline with cash. During the checkout process, customers select Amazon PayCode and they are given a unique QR code. They then present the code at a Western Union location and pay for their purchase with cash, and Amazon processes the order. Notably, the consumer is not charged for using the service, but Amazon pays Western Union a facilitation fee. 

While still relatively new, PayCode is currently available in 20 countries, and is available exclusively through Western Union. According to Gallup, roughly 24% of American households prefer to conduct most or all everyday purchases with cash. PayCode opens the door for these customers to use Amazon, and Western Union stands to benefit in the process. 

Looking ahead to the next earnings report

On October 31, Western Union is expected to report third-quarter earnings. And after a strong Investor Day presentation, I'm interested to see how these projects have translate to the company's financials. Since December 2018's stock market slump across the board, Western Union shares have been on a relatively steady climb, rising over $24 per share for the first time in over a decade this October.

I'm excited to be invested in this company and can't wait to see what Western Union has in store ... and I'm planning to hold onto my shares for the very long term.

10 stocks we like better than Western Union
When investing geniuses David and Tom Gardner have a stock tip, it can pay to listen. After all, the newsletter they have run for over a decade, Motley Fool Stock Advisor, has quadrupled the market.*

David and Tom just revealed what they believe are the ten best stocks for investors to buy right now... and Western Union wasn't one of them! That's right -- they think these 10 stocks are even better buys.

See the 10 stocks


*Stock Advisor returns as of June 1, 2019


John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Grace Williams owns shares of Western Union. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


More Related Articles

Sign up for Smart Investing to get the latest news, strategies and tips to help you invest smarter.