Wise is a low cost international money transfer app that helps people send money abroad for much less than it would cost to do it through their banks. Wise was launched as Transferwise in 2010 as a peer to peer currency network, but has since grown to provide money transfers to over 15 million customers sending more than £9 billion a month.
In this review we:
- Give our ratings based on their nearest peers
- Tell you what we think of them after testing them with real money
- Highlight the key costs, facts and figures of their accounts
Research & Analysis
Why we like them
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to send money abroad.
- Phone support hard to find
- Only suitable for smaller transfers
Wise Expert Review
There are many firms that shout loudly about wanting to disrupt an industry. But most of the time, it is marketing hyperbole. However, in Wise’s case they have actually disrupted how we send money around the world. They’ve done this by doing two things
- Making it cheap
- Making it easy
A few years ago, just before Wise was founded me and some friends all clubbed together to buy a friend of mine who was living in Munich some time in a music studio for his birthday. His girlfriend arranged it from Germany and asked us to all send over €30. It was an absolute nightmare. I was banking with Natwest and they were going to charge me £20 as a minimum fee for sending the money to a European bank account. So that was out of the question. Next I tried PayPal, but they were still a ridiculously expensive. So what I did, in the end, was, as I was working in The City, on Lower Thames Street, at lunch I went to one of the Euro cash machines next to the Tower of London and withdrew €30 in cash, put it in an envelope and send it with a little note through the office post room. If I hadn’t managed to post to from work and had to buy stamps instead, I probably wouldn’t have bothered at all.
There really was no way to send a small amount of money abroad, unless you had the time and inclination to inconvenience yourself and the receiver by visiting a Western Union shop.
Thankfully then along came Wise. It was a boom time for money transfer apps and Transferwise as they were then called were by no means the only one touting for business. But what Wise had above all others was an excellent story.
The story was the circumvention of “evil” banks by transferring money abroad using peer to peer networks. Which was basically Transferwise saying that if you need to transfer €30 to Germany there is probably someone in Germany who wants to transfer €30 to England. So instead of doing two foreign exchange conversions and two bank transfers, we’ll just match your €30 with their €30 and there is no need to do any FX, and therefore far fewer fees to pay.
They also had some fantastic marketing, for example stripping off to their pants in front of the Bank of England to protest rip-off banking charges. It was a stroke of genius, really, as there are two things that the British really like. One is seeing naked people. The second is hating banks.
They weren’t the first people to cause a scene to turbocharger their business. Specsavers tried to sue Glasses Direct after they dressed up as sheep outside their shops in 2006 claiming that their customers were being “fleeced”. And a few days before Transferwise got naked, Betfair had driven a massive Octopus through central London, and guess what, it broke down slap bang in the middle of Oxford Street, causing outrage and loads of free press coverage for their World Cup offers. The similarity doesn’t end there either, Betfair is a P2P sports betting platform where you bet against other players rather than evil bookies, who like evil banks just want your money.
Of course, just as with Betfair, liquidity gaps need to be filled when there isn’t someone on the other side of your transaction and whilst Betfair still used traditional market makers, Transferwise used firms like Currency Cloud (now owned by Visa) to ensure that customers always got the best price even.
Richard Branson was also an investor. So there you go. If he likes the product. Why shouldn’t you?
Over the years, Wise as grown by doing the two things I mentioned earlier really well.
They are now listed on the LSE (LON:WISE) with at market cap at the time of writing of £6.75bn., Admittedly, that is about 30% down from where they IPO’d, but even though lots of tech firms listed in 2021, it was a pretty bad time to come to market, and most have performed poorly since then because of overall market conditions and over ambitions venture capitalists wanting a return on their investments.
Wise makes it incredibly easy to transfer money abroad. It’s hard to say too much about the app because it only really does one thing, and that’s help you send small amounts of money abroad. And it does that really well. If you have a large amount of money to send you are better off with a currency broker because they can help with market timing, and lock in exchange rates with forward contracts and currency options. Plus if you ask them nicely and are transferring enough money, they will undercut Wise’s exchange rates and fees. Remember, that in FX, everything is negotiable.
But if you are not transferring a small amount of money overseas, Wise is one of the cheapest money transfer apps out there. And more importantly, they display their fees clearly on their website and app, although everyone now has to do this because the FCA got very upset with people not displaying true FX transaction costs.
They are not the absolute cheapest out there though. At the moment, Atlantic Money will do GBPUSD transfers at the interbank rate plus £3. But to be honest, I don’t think that is sustainable and it’s only one corridor versus Wise, which offers 21 currencies. You also get the feeling that the money transfer market is saturated now, which is why Wise are starting to offer other products like multi-currency bank accounts and investing. If you want to know more about Atlantic Money, you can read my interview with the founders Neeraj Baid and Patrick Kavanagh (who helped build Robinhood) and make your own mind up about if that’s the right service for you.
But in a nutshell… Should you use Wise? Yes. Are they cheap? Yes. Is it easy to use? Yes. Are they safe? Yes.
The only reason not to use them really, is if you already bank with Starling whose fees are pretty similar and don’t want another app on your phone…
Wise Facts & Figures
|Max Transfer||1.2m EUR|