TransferWise has been featured on many mainstream publications such as Wired and The Economist. With it, you can skip out on the excessive international exchange fees companies like PayPals and banks charge. Their fee is a simple, flat %1.
TransferWise is an Estonian developed and UK-based money transfer service launched in January 2011 by Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus with headquarters in London and offices in a number of cities including Tallinn, New York and Singapore. TransferWise supports more than 300 currency routes across the world as well as providing multi-currency accounts.
The concept was to match transfers with other people and then have a small commission while using the inter-bank mid exchange rate, unlike traditional currency transfers where there are buy and sell rates and the broker takes the difference between the two.
TransferWise was inspired by the personal experiences of Taavet Hinrikus, Skype's first employee, and financial consultant Kristo Käärmann. As Estonians working between their native country and the UK, they had personal experience of the "pain of international money transfer" due to bank charges on the amounts they needed to convert from euros to pounds and vice versa. In the words of Hinrikus, "I was losing five per cent of the money each time I moved it. At the same time my co-founder Kristo Käärmann (also from Estonia) was starting to get paid in the UK and was losing a lot of money transferring cash back home to pay for a mortgage there".
It inspired them to make a private arrangement, with Hinrikus – who was paid in euros – putting this currency directly into Käärmann's Estonian account so he could pay his mortgage without having to convert pounds to euros, while Käärmann returned the favour by putting pounds into Hinrikus' UK account. This arrangement led them to start developing a crowdsourced currency exchange service to offer a cheaper alternative to established institutions.
In February 2012, their approval with the UK financial regulator was finalised. In April 2013, they stopped letting users purchase Bitcoin, citing pressure from banking providers. In its first year, transactions through TransferWise amounted to €10 million. In May 2017, the company announced its customers were sending over £1 billion every month using the service.
In May 2016, TransferWise's claim "you save up to 90% against banks" has been considered as misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority. According to independent comparison site Monito.com, Transferwise was actually on average 83% cheaper than the big four UK banks on major currency "routes", but could be up to 90% cheaper in some occasions. In April 2017, an internal memo from Santander showed how much the bank was making from its charges on international money transfer and how much it could lose to new entrants, specifically TransferWise.
In April 2017, it announced its decision to move its European headquarters from London to the continent due to Brexit. The same month, the company announced its APAC hub in Singapore after becoming one of the first remittance companies to be allowed to offer online verification in Singapore.
In May 2017, TransferWise launched a new service, the Borderless account. Initially the account is for businesses and freelancers with an account and card for consumers planned for later in the year. The Borderless account was available in Europe and the US at launch. A Mastercarddebit card was launched in January 2018 for select existing customers to use their Borderless account in 28 currencies and support was added for consumers.
Also in May 2017, the company announced it had been operationally profitable since the beginning of the year.
How it works
Regular money transfer versus peer-to-peer money transfer
TransferWise routes payments not by transferring the sender's money directly to the recipient, but by redirecting them to the recipient of an equivalent transfer going in the opposite direction. Likewise, the recipient of the transfer receives a payment not from the sender initiating the transfer, but from the sender of the equivalent transfer. This process avoids currency conversion and transfers crossing borders. The markups applied usually are not volume-dependent which of benefit to individuals who are sending small regular transfers abroad. A minor drawback of the procedure is that the recipient gets no information how much money has been sent in the original currency.
In 2012, the company's charges were €1—in 2015 raised to €2, £2, $3 etc. (depending on the currency sent)—or 0.5%, whichever is larger, in or of an equivalent amount in the customer's currency.
TransferWise received seed funding amounting to $1.3 million from a consortium including leading venture firms IA Ventures and Index Ventures, IJNR Ventures, NYPPE as well as individual investors such as PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, former Betfair CEO David Yu, and Wonga.com co-founder Errol Damelin. TransferWise also received investment after being named one of Seedcamp 2011's winners. In May 2013 it was announced that TransferWise had secured a $6 million investment round led by Peter Thiel's Valar Ventures. TransferWise raised a further $25 million in June 2014, adding Richard Branson as an investor. In January 2015, it was announced that TransferWise had raised a $58 million Series C round, led by investors Andreessen Horowitz. In May 2016, TransferWise secured a funding of $26 million, that raised the company's valuation to $1.1 billion. As of May 2016, TransferWise has raised a total of $117 million in funding.
Named as one of "East London's 20 hottest tech startups" by The Guardian, TransferWise has also been picked as a Wired UK Start Up of the Week as well as being listed as number 12 in Startups.co.uk's list of the top 100 UK start-ups of 2012. TransferWise was also named by TechCrunch as one of five "start-ups to watch" at Seedcamp's 2012 US Demo Day.
In May 2015, Transferwise was ranked No. 8 on CNBC's 2015 Disruptor 50 list.