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Wise (formerly TransferWise) is a British financial technology company. They provide many financial services, but they are especially known for their very affordable currency exchange services.
You can use Wise to send money to other people in many different currencies, with excellent prices. You can also use your Wise card to pay abroad at a low cost. But you can also use it as a bank account and hold many currencies in your account.
But how good is it really? Should you use Wise? Let’s find out the advantages and disadvantages of Wise.
Wise is a private company based in London, in the United Kingdom. They already launched in 2011, making it one of the earliest fintech companies. They started under the name TransferWise and changed their name to Wise in early 2021.
They started by offering mostly money transfer services with good prices for conversions between different currencies. But now, you can also hold different currencies in your account and receive money directly.
In 2019, they had more than 6 million customers. In 2021, this is more than 10 million customers that are using Wise. Wise customers are holding more than 3 billion GBP in Wise. Their services are available in many countries like the U.S. and most of Europe. The most impressive number is that people are transferring more than 5 billion GBP every month using Wise.
In July 2021, they went public on the stock market, after a long-awaited IPO.
The main feature of Wise is its multi-currency account. This account used to be called Borderless, but it was renamed in the multi-currency account. Wise also has a Business bank account. But I am going to focus on the personal bank account in this review.
The principal feature of this account is to hold up to 56 different currencies in your account. So, you can pay in these currencies, but you also keep money in these currencies. So for instance, if you receive some money in EUR, you can keep it and use it if you go shopping in France. This is great since it gives a lot of flexibility.
And talking about receiving money, you can even get local account numbers in 10 currencies. This means you will get a personal EUR IBAN or a USD routing and account number. This is an extremely great feature since people can send you money directly to these accounts in your name.
Unfortunately, you cannot get a local personal Swiss IBAN. Except for actual Swiss banks, I do not know any service that would provide personal CH IBAN.
On the other hand, they have a CH IBAN you can use to top up your account for free. This is great if you want to send money from your bank own account to your Wise account for free!
Another great feature of Wise is the ability to send money to accounts of 80 countries!
When you send or spend money, the system is smart enough to use the money you already have in the proper currency. And if you do not have it, it will be converted automatically from you.
And sending money is also very fast. They achieve this by having local bank accounts in many countries. So, when you send money from one country to the other, they go quickly over the different bank accounts from Wise. This allows them to cut intermediaries. This has the double effect of faster and cheaper transfers.
With your account, you can also get a Mastercard Debit card. This is great if you want to travel with your account or get some cash. All the payments with this card will work the same way as sending money or paying online. It will first use your balance in that currency or convert automatically for you.
As you would expect, you can use your Wise account to pay with Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay. So you can easily pay with your phone.
They even started a feature to have a virtual Visa card. This means you can have several (up to 3) cards that only live in your account. You can use it online or with Google Pay / Apple Pay. This is great for security. You can create a new card, pay online on a site you do not entirely trust (or you are testing for the first time), and then delete or freeze the card. This is an excellent feature!
A virtual card is also a good way not to have a physical plastic card. Your card lives in your phone! And these virtual cards work just like the standard physical card from Wise.
Overall, Wise has plenty of interesting features. You should have all that you need with them. These features are great for going with your local bank account or even replacing your local bank account if Wise supports your local banking system.
The main advantage of Wise is to be much cheaper than traditional banks. So, we need to pay special attention to their pricing. I will take the fees in GBP. If you have another account, you will pay fees in your local currencies. These fees will be converted and rounded in your local currencies. So, they are more or less the same in any country.
Having a Wise account is free. You can hold all currencies, get local IBAN or account numbers in many countries, all that for free!
If you hold more than 15’000 EUR in your account, you will pay a 0.40% fee on your assets. So, it is not recommended to keep a lot of money in your Wise account.
Adding money to your account is free as long as you send a currency your account can hold. Otherwise, you will pay currency conversion fees. Receiving money on your account is also free, except for wire transfers in USD (they cost 7.50 USD).
If you want a Wise debit card, you will have to pay 5 GBP once to get it. But there will be no yearly fee. Spending money with the card is free as long as you already have the money in the correct currency. Otherwise, you will have to pay currency conversion fees (keep reading for details).
You can even withdraw money with the card. You can get 2 ATM withdrawals per month, with a maximum of 200 GBP per month. If you make more withdrawals, you will pay 0.50 GBP per withdrawal. And if you withdraw more than 200GBP, you will pay a 1.75% fee on the withdrawal amount. So, I would really recommend not withdrawing too much since this expensive with Wise.
What costs money with Wise is a currency conversion. Unfortunately, they have a complicated pricing system. For each conversion, you will pay a fixed fee and a variable fee. The variable fee is a percentage of the amount. For conversions inside your own account, only the variable fee will apply. But sending money, even without currency conversion, will cost you the fixed fee.
Unfortunately, they do not have a table of all the fixed fees and the variable fees. It seems like they are changing pretty regularly. Fortunately, they offer a fee calculator.
Here are a few examples as of July 2021:
- Sending 1000 EUR to someone in GBP: 0.50 + 4.08 = 4.58 EUR fee
- Sending 2000 CHF to someone in USD: 1.09 + 8.56 = 9.65 CHF fee
- Sending 10’000 USD to someone in INR: 6.28 + 52.69 = 58.97 USD fee
In general, you will pay between 0.40% and 0.80%. This is very affordable. When you compare Swiss banks that will charge between 1% and 2% even for popular currency pairs, you can save a lot of money with Wise.
But there are some cases where the variable fee is significantly more expensive. For instance, converting from AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham) to USD would cost 3.46% in variable fees. This is very expensive. So, do not assume that everything is cheap with Wise.
Overall, Wise fees are really fair. They are not free like some of their competitors, but they are low and very stable. Also, the base rate is extremely good, at the interbank rate. So, they will have excellent currency conversions!
Is Wise safe?
If you will put any amount of money into financial service, it is important to understand if your money is safe. We are principally interested in what would happen if Wise bankrupted.
Before, it is important to note that Wise has been profitable four years in a row. This is an excellent result for a relatively young company. It is important because many fintech companies, like Revolut, are not profitable. And their profit is growing quickly.
Wise is not a bank. Therefore, they cannot hold your money directly. They are required to deposit the money of their users in financial institutions. This also means that money is not insured with deposit protection. For instance, in Switzerland, if a bank bankrupts, you get protection for 100’00 CHF. You will not get this kind of protection with TransferWise.
However, Wise safeguards the funds of their users. It means that all the user deposits are in specific bank accounts, separate from the business bank accounts of Wise. And in case of bankruptcy, creditors would not have any claim to the money.
In each country, the money is held in different banks. Wise is diversifying over several banks. But they also invest customer money in government bonds. From a risk point of view, this should not make too much difference for customers since governments are quite safe in most countries. However, this may take longer to get back the money in case of bankruptcy.
For instance, UK customers’ funds are deposited in cash in 6 different banks in 3 countries. And 52.68% (as of June 2021) is invested in government bonds in the UK and the US.
Overall, I believe that having money on Wise accounts is safe. There is some level of risk (there always is), but it is acceptable.
Finally, let’s see what users are thinking of Wise.
Let’s starts with the reviews of Wise on TrustPilot. There are more than 120’000 reviews at this time, with an average score of 4.6. This is an excellent score! 85% of the users are rating Wise as Excellent (5 stars). And only 4% are rating it as Bad (1 star).
The positive reviews are mostly talking about:
- Good execution speeds of the transfers
- Good transparency of the transfer fees
- Easy to use system
- Good customer service
On the other hand, the negative reviews are complaining about:
- Issues with deactivated accounts and having to verify accounts regularly
- Some transfers have been slower than expected
We can also look at the reviews of the App on Google Play. There are more than 125K reviews, with an average score of 4.4. Positive reviews are mostly about transfer speeds and exchange rates. Negative reviews are mostly complaining about recent changes to the app. There are also again some more reviews about account deactivations and transfers that take too long.
Finally, let’s look at the reviews of the App on Apple Store. There are only about 21K reviews here, with an average of 4.7, another excellent result. Again, the positive reviews are about good support, fast and cheap transfers, and an easy-to-use app. And most negative reviews are about account deactivations.
Overall, most users seem to be extremely happy with Wise. The quick and cheap transfers are mostly what users are happy about.
On the other hand, they seem to have an issue with account deactivations. Either they should make it more transparent or return the money faster. But in the current state, it is still worrying even if it concerns only very few people.
Let’s summarize the advantages of Wise:
- Excellent currency conversion rate
- Can hold many different currencies in your account
- Can pay abroad at affordable prices
- Can transfer money to other accounts in other currencies at very fair prices
- Can hold more than 50 currencies in your account
- Can get local accounts in 10 different currencies
- Can do operations on the website and mobile
- No account management fees
- Great transparency for the way they hold money
- Can create up to 3 virtual Visa cards
- Excellent customer reviews
Let’s also summarize the disadvantages of Wise:
- Complicated pricing system
- Some of the currency conversions can be expensive
- Minimal free withdrawals
- Expensive withdrawals after the free withdrawals
- No personal local IBAN for Switzerland
- A worrying amount of accounts are deactivated
Overall, I quite like TransferWise offer. They have an excellent reputation and allow you to transfer money in other currencies at excellent prices. Using it abroad with their card is also great to pay without paying too much in fees.
If you have to transfer money in different currencies regularly, Wise is the best account to do that. When we compare with Swiss bank accounts, the difference is huge!
And obviously, if you travel a lot or live in many countries over time, a Wise account could be a great help.
Since you have no personal local CH IBAN, this is not a good candidate for your local Swiss bank. You will still need a good swiss bank account.
For spending abroad, there are actually better alternatives. For instance, Neon will give you free payments abroad. But it will still beat your bank credit card by a long shot.
If you are wondering how this compares with Revolut, I have compared Wise vs Revolut.
And if you want a quick presentation of Wise, this video is great: