Behind the Idea Paytech World-Region-Country

Behind the Idea: Wise

A global presence is the dream of many companies, but the journey to achieve this is often filled with various challenges – how can these be overcome? Wise (formerly known as TransferWise) explains how the company has been able to break into so many markets and find success.

From a range of different products for consumers and businesses, Wise has been able to enter various markets in Europe, MEA and Asia with varying degrees of success. We hear about the company’s ethics and the work environment it creates  to find such growth, we hear from Roisin Levine, head of partnerships UK and Europe at Wise. 

With various accolades to her name, including: Rising Star in Women in Fintech Powerlist by Innovate Finance (2018) (2019) and (2020), being nominated for Women in Finance Young Leader of the Year award; and nominated for Women in Credit Award’s Transformation of the Year award, Levine explains the secrets behind Wise’s success: 

Tell us more about your company and its offering
Roisin Levine, head of partnerships UK and Europe at Wise
Roisin Levine, head of partnerships UK and Europe at Wise

Wise is a global technology company building the best way to move money around the world. Wise launched in 2011 under its original name TransferWise on a mission to create a world of money without borders – where sending money internationally is instant, convenient, transparent, and eventually free.

13 million people and businesses use Wise, which processes over £8billion in cross-border transactions every month, saving customers over £1billion a year. We handle 3.5b per cent of all personal cross-border transactions processed annually.

Wise is best known for its consumer offering, but we also have a B2B arm, Wise Platform, that is focused on partnering with banks and businesses to integrate Wise’s technology over API. This allows partners to offer their customers fast, cheap, and convenient international transfers with no hidden fees right from within their own app. In just five years, Wise Platform has gone live with over 50 partners, including the likes of Monzo, N26, Bunq, Xero and Google Pay.

What problem was your company set up to solve?

Wise started life when our founders, Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann, realised how much money it cost to transfer money between the UK and Estonia. Hinrikus was based in London but paid in euros; Käärmann worked in London but paid a mortgage in Estonia in euros. They each needed what the other had so they figured out a fair way to exchange money between themselves, using the mid-market rate – without the mark-up rate and fees charged by the bank. They saved thousands of pounds and realised there were millions of people across the world who could do the same.

They set up Wise with the goal of eliminating the hidden fees and markups associated with making international payments via traditional banks, making it cheaper and more convenient for people to send and spend money abroad.

Since launch, how has your company evolved?

Wise began as a way to send money abroad. While this, of course, remains the core of what we do at Wise, over the last five years in particular our growth has been aided by the expansion of our B2B service, Wise Platform.

We believe that Wise Platform can take us significantly closer to achieving our mission. By forming partnerships with other organisations in the fintech and finance space, we can take our product to customers via their existing providers, rather than hoping they come to us.

Partnerships are an important industry-wide trend, something I discovered more about when interviewing leaders from across the fintech and finance space for our recently launched podcast series ‘How We’re Fixing’. Guests range from the likes of TSB to Payhawk, and every organisation points towards partnerships as a key element of how they are working to solve the range of problems that their customers face.

What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?

When it comes to partnerships, it can be a challenge to shift perspectives from competition to collaboration.

However, there is a growing awareness of how partnerships are a mutually beneficial solution to innovation and growth. For example, while our partnerships allow us to bring our product to more customers, our partners are able to deliver an enhanced FX payment product quickly and efficiently, which customers can access right from within their own app. This improves customer satisfaction and thereby drives growth and customer retention. Not to mention the wider sector benefits from the innovation driven by partnerships, too.

The simple fact is that we can achieve more when we work together. While no one is pretending that the tension between competition and collaboration doesn’t exist, partnerships are becoming a more familiar feature of the industry because they provide significant value to both partners, and most importantly, their customers.

What are your biggest achievements or ‘proudest moment’ so far?

We’ve had lots of great new partner wins over the last year globally and I’m particularly proud of the partnerships that we’ve delivered in the UK and Europe. For example, our launch with Turkish bank Fibabanka, made possible through our partnership with Birlesik Odeme, launched us into a new market and has made the Wise send product readily available to 3 million more customers.

One of the major achievements of the last 12 months has also been an improved understanding of the needs of our prospective partners. We’ve listened closely to partners and considered some of the common challenges they face when integrating a new service. This has led us to build our newest integration, SWIFT Receive, which allows financial institutions to benefit from Wise’s expertise for outgoing or incoming payments via SWIFT by making Wise their correspondent.

From a personal perspective, I am embarking on maternity leave, and I feel very lucky to work for a team who I know will achieve many more successes in the months ahead. I’m already excited to catch up with all the newest developments on my return!

How would you describe the culture of your company?

Today, Wise is a listed company with more than 3,000 employees across the world. But just over a decade ago, we were a small business.

Lots of things have made this growth possible. The system we’re trying to fix was (and remains) very broken, so there was a clear need for our product. But internally, there’s something else that makes us distinct and which has allowed us to grow quickly: that is the fact that Wise doesn’t run like a traditional business.

We embrace an autonomous team structure here at Wise, which means that every team operates independently and is trusted to get stuff done. We set clear goals, but then give teams the autonomy to achieve them. The company operates like a collection of start ups under one roof, rather than as one big behemoth. This approach is supported by giving our employees ownership in the company and high levels of support.

This way of working may not work for everyone – but it’s what makes Wise work.

What’s in store for the future?

In a decade we’ve created a global network which allows us to move money across borders cheaper, faster and more conveniently. It’s being used by banks and businesses as well as people. But we’re only just getting started. We have seen some steady progress not only at Wise, but in the wider sector in terms of FX payments, but there’s still a long way to go to make international transactions completely free for customers around the world.

Looking ahead, we have lots of exciting partnership announcements on the horizon, with partners all over the world. Our latest partnerships with Israel-based credit card company Max and Turkish bank Fibabanka introduced Wise Platform into new markets, and we are looking forward to expanding our reach even further. Coupled with the launch of new services like SWIFT Receive, we are making steady progress towards our goal of working with many more partners, of all sizes, across both banking and fintech.

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