Elizabeth (Libby) Chambers didn’t come to the marketing world via the usual path of brand management or agency jobs. Chambers, who joined Western Union in late 2015 as chief strategy, product and marketing officer, came up through a series or commercial strategy roles that merged with marketing functions at companies ranging from Reader’s Digest to Bank of America.
As a consultant with McKinsey working with financial companies such as American Express and Citigroup, Chambers says learned to value the degree that marketers can become “people who understand and think like the CFO.” Now, as CMO and head of strategy, she’s tasked with transforming the company into a digital company.
Velocitize talked to Chambers about how marketers should be good with numbers, what to do when you run out of world and when to put a white label on your product.
Velocitize: Western Union has a plan to transform the company using technology and mobile channels. Why?
Chambers: The one thing we have to do as a company, a set of products and services and as a brand, is help customers understand we are a digital company.
Customers’ expectations of the experience of trying to send money or make money transfers have really extended over the last few years. We have really tried to stay with that and ideally get ahead of it. Part of that is a customer behavioral trend. But part of that is our real competition is coming at us hard, so our user experience has to be as seamless and as easy and intuitive as Chase QuickPay or Venmo or any of the online alternatives that people are beginning to use.
The second big theme is that historically Western Union grew by adding countries and through extending our agent network. This is probably not a good way to say it, but we’re sort of running out of world. We’re already in 200 countries and our website coverage is now extending to 40 markets. For us, growing is going to be about new products, new customer segments and less about new markets.
The third thing is around extending our presence in B2B payments and B2B2C and B2C — essentially enabling people to pay bills via Western Union domestically and increasingly cross-borders.
There’s a marketing role to play in all that, because we have no brand awareness issues anywhere, but we’re a brand that has to be updated in terms of people’s understanding of what we stand for and what we can do and how digital are we, etc.
The other thing to be doing is to make sure that we’re in an environment where many of those products are going to be interesting to our existing customer base, but also customers we’ve never served before. Somebody sending a $20,000 payment for a real estate purchase in another country — that’s a very different customer than our traditional customer base, but it’s a faster growing category.
If you’re trying to reach a new customer segment, you have to assume you’re going to be doing that sometimes with different branding — not necessarily losing the Western Union brand, but updating it, figuring out thoughtfully where you might be co-branding, where you might do things white-label.
Velocitize: So you’ll be opening your branding? How, by signing up partners?
Chambers: Part of it is going out there and signing up partners, because a lot of partners know us as a big, trusted provider of money transfer services. The second wave of bots that they announced at the Facebook developer conference was Western Union money transfer in the Facebook app in the U.S.
It’s also being open to different forms of doing business. It’s being smarter about “Hey, this is a situation where we want to have a JV.” Or “This is a situation where we might want to buy a technology and incorporate it into us.” Or “Here’s a place where we might want to to white label a thing for somebody else entirely and the Western Union branding question might be completely separate. We have a big brand project underway right now looking at all that.
Velocitize: So you’re opening up your platform to outside developers?
Chambers: It’s a little bit of that, and we have some investments in small companies that are doing that right now. The other thing is creating an API layer in our app that makes it easier for our partners and us to hook up. That’s what we’ve done with Viber and WeChat and a series of social platforms around the world and other financial institutions. It’s making it so that you go to the ScotiaBank website in Canada and their money transfer service is powered by Western Union.
Historically, we would have thought of it as an agent and would have wanted to work with it in an arm’s-length way. What we’re going to do is be smarter and say: “Actually, some of these bank partnerships can be really powerful. We need to make it easy to partner.”
Velocitize: Any early learnings of your partnerships study?
Chambers: What we found is versus completely dropping our brand and being white label, this “sent securely by” concept is the strongest and tests the best. Because there’s a trust and an inherent sense of “Well, they know how to do that.” What we have to do now is make it look right, make it intuitive and clear.
Velocitize: Does overseeing marketing, communications and product give you an advantage?
Chambers: It sounds complex, but they’re synergistic. In financial services, because a lot of what you’re doing is create products that are going to be a service over time, you need to think through what the customer communications are going to be — not just at the point of sale, but ongoing.
I feel like I have to be as numerate as the CFO, because some of the analyses that my team has to drive are even more complex than the accounting. They’re all about science and the correlation of inputs and outputs. Being able to understand programmatic is one example. I don’t know how you can do that, if you’re not particularly numerate.
To me, there’s a lot of synergy between being a numerate person and being a good marketer in this day and age. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to have a good body of creative judgement around you, both in your team and in your agencies. But it has helped me personally to come from a more business strategy side.
Velocitize: What’s next for Western Union?
Chambers: You should expect us to do more in the business-to-business payments space, extending where we have Wu.com, which is our digital way of people sending money to other people. We’re pushing very hard to do what we’re calling payments.com, which is businesses paying each other digitally.
I don’t think it’s surprising to think in the world we face ahead of us, currency and currency exposures are a bigger and bigger issue for businesses, whether it is for volatility or because of protectionism. Even because of things like Brexit, businesses are having to figure out more things than ever before.
On the consumer side, look to us to do more products and services in the bill payment space. Another thing you will see us make in the consumer space is wallets and being able to pay out onto a card or onto a wallet.
The notion of unbanked is becoming a thing of the past, because many people have wallets that function as bank accounts. Also, a bigger range of providers has cropped up that offer things in a very simple way. We have to accelerate our progress in that space.