Back to the Future for Western Union and MoneyGram?

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In what seems like a generation ago, companies like Western Union  (WU) - Get Report, MoneyGram International  (MGI) - Get Report and even Facebook  (FB) - Get Report were talking about the next era of digital currencies. 

So far in 2020, the majority of investors have been more focused on financial system remaining sound and afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic rout. 

But discussions of a potential tie-up between Western Union and MoneyGram have brought back talk of the future of digital currencies.

Shares of MoneyGram surged on Tuesday on reports that Western Union has made an offer that would join together two of the largest U.S. providers of money-transfer services. Western Union stock also jumped higher.

The reason: not only that the possible marriage makes sense from an business standpoint, but that a Western Union-MoneyGram combo could be the next platform of choice for processing digital payments - in digital currencies.

Last summer, blockchain startup Ripple agreed to invest $50 million in MoneyGram, which was formed when Minneapolis-based Travelers Express and Denver-based Integrated Payment Systems merged back in the 1990s.

While Western Union remains a known entity in the money-transfer business, it isn't entirely set up to compete with online transfer powerhouses like PayPal  (PYPL) - Get Report, or to handle  digital currencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin or others.

A tie-up could change that, giving the company a leg up in the ever-changing world of digital payments. Investors seem to think so, with MoneyGram's stock surging 36% on Tuesday, and Western Union gaining more than 8%.

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