TransferWise: Challenging big banks’ hidden fees with nothing but a good story

13 April 2018

Founded in 2011 by Estonian friends Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, built by the creators of Skype and funded by Richard Branson and Andreessen Horowitz among others, TransferWise is a UK-based peer-to-peer money transfer service shaking up the financial sector.

Having turned profitable in early 2017, TransferWise secured $280 million in new investment in November, they claim 10% of the UK international money transfer market, handle over $750 million in transfers each month, and are reportedly worth $1.6 billion. Not bad for a company with such a simple idea at its core – that being, to make money transfers cheaper.


Since the 2008 financial crash many people are distrustful not only of the old traditional banks, but the old traditional way of banking. TransferWise exploit this global mood, highlighting the distrustful behaviour of traditional banks, while distinctly distancing themselves from them.

One early campaign used a Pinterest “Board of Shame” to pin examples of hidden transfer fees, often tucked away in the T&Cs or exchange-rate mark-ups. In contrast, TransferWise display all their fees upfront and deduct them before conversion. TransferWise see transparency as the vital core of their branding – and they shout about it. Another campaign had people strip to their underwear in front of landmarks across the globe with “Nothing2Hide” tattooed across their chests.

Hinrikus said: “When it comes to branding, that is an important factor […] to build the trust of customers.” To advance this trust, as well as highlighting transparency, Transferwise use distinctly modern design across their branding to further distance themselves from the conservative style of the traditional banks. They also emphasise technological solutionism to explain why their system is more efficient and cheaper than anything the old banks have been able or willing to offer.

This all stems from a drive to create evangelical customers. The company tap into the unrivalled ability of word of mouth to inspire trust in potential new customers. Thus they have carved out a narrative of a mission-driven startup looking to revolutionise banking. It is a narrative you want to tell your friends about. And clearly it works. 80% of their new customers come from word of mouth.

TransferWise have recently introduced a Borderless account and debit card for freelancers and small businesses who regularly need to move money between currencies. But, on top of this, Hinrikus says: “With new products and ideas in the pipeline, we’re in a good position to challenge the banks for the mainstream customer.” As a developing brand they have always positioned themselves against the big banks, but as they become bigger and bigger themselves the more difficult this position becomes to hold. In the coming year, expect to see if and how they retain their anti-establishment image.

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Image credit: © TransferWise

Brand Strategy, Technology