You should be angry. No. You should be furious.
Every time you’ve transferred money abroad, or exchanged currencies before a vacation, you’ve been ripped off. Horribly so, in fact. When you factor in unfair fees and wildly disparate exchange rates, the total loss to you can often exceed hundreds of dollars.
That’s your money.
The two biggest culprits are banks and currency exchanges, who rake in billions of dollars each year, largely at your expense. But they needn’t. Here’s how you can get your travel money and transfer money between international bank accounts without getting stung.
Quite often banks, currency exchange shops, and post offices advertise themselves as offering 0% commission on currency exchanges. They’re lying.
The problem is, they’re technically not. Whilst they don’t charge you a flat fee, they do charge an inaccurate rate of exchange. This can often be as much as 13% in their favor. This means that if you exchange $1,000 US Dollars for another currency, you’ll be as much $130 out of pocket.
Thankfully, not for much longer. Coming out of London – the unofficial world capital of financial technology start-ups – WeSwap aims to make it cheaper, easier and faster to exchange currency.
The principle behind the application is simple.
You register on the WeSwap website, and once they’ve verified you are who you say you are, they’ll send you a free MasterCard debit card. It’s important to stress how above-board WeSwap are. Not only do they make as many efforts as possible to keep fraudsters off the site, but they also adhere to strict regulations established by their payment gateways and the other financial institutions they deal with.
They’re also regulated by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission, which represents all financial services companies operating in the UK-owned territory.
Once registered, you can then pre-load your debit card with multiple foreign currencies – up to 16 as of April 2015, including US Dollars, British Pounds, Japanese Yen and Australian Dollars.
However, you’re not necessarily buying your currency from WeSwap. Rather, you’re exchanging currency with other members of the site, who are all looking to get cheap foreign currency for their next big trip abroad. This is all done seamlessly and quickly, and you are only charged 1% of your transaction. If you’re looking for a more niche currency – like Polish Zloty, or Hungarian Forint – and there isn’t enough user-generated supply, you can always buy it from WeSwap themselves. Although here, they’ll charge you a 1.5% fee, which is still pretty competitive given what you’ll get charged on the high street.
It’s important to stress that you’re getting the best rates possible. Not the ones on the high street, but rather the rates a bank would get, which are provided through the XE currency rates platform.
Once you’ve swapped your currency, you’re good to go. It’s all loaded on your MasterCard, and you can spend it as you would with a normal debit card.
If you have multiple currencies on the one card there is no need to worry about the wrong balance being deducted, the service will automatically choose the correct currency depending on which country you are in.
The only downside is that WeSwap is currently only available in ten European countries, including the UK, Sweden, Norway and Italy. They do, however, have plans to enter the US market in months to come.
I’m originally from the UK, but for a long while I lived in Geneva, Switzerland where I was employed as an IT worker for an NGO. Each month, I’d transfer money to my mother, so she could pay off my British credit card. It was an arrangement that worked, but was eye wateringly expensive, as anyone who has ever used Western Union knows.
There has to be a better way.
Unfortunately, the banks aren’t much better. Most banks in the UK charge around £25 ($40) to make an international bank transfer. It’s just as steep in Europe, and in the United States.
One company looking to eat Western Union’s dinner is TransferWise, who operate in North America, Europe and India, and promise to transfer your money across borders for only 0.5%. TransferWise is regulated by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, and like WeSwap, is based in London.
From a consumer’s perspective, TransferWise works not unlike traditional online banking websites. Log in to your own account, type in the amount and recipient, and press send. But what’s interesting is not the mechanism to send a payment, but what actually happens behind the scenes.
Instead of directly sending the transfer and incurring fees, they instead wait and see if their request for payment can be fulfilled by locally available sources of funds.
This has a few advantages. Firstly, it’s significantly more expedient than certain methods of transferring money, although nothing quite beats Western Union which can transfer funds across borders in just a matter of hours.
Secondly, it means that the transaction is cheaper to make, since no money is crossing borders, and they can use an exchange rate that approaches the actual market value.
Since it’s a modern, regulated system, they’ve taken steps to protect TransferWise against any fraudulent usage. This is massive, as currency transfer agents have traditionally be used by West African 419 scammers to receive funds, as our own Angela Alcorn found out last year.
That’s an incredibly compelling offering, especially when compared to banks who charge more, and are slower at executing transfers.
Never Get Ripped Off Again
Bad news, banks. The era of you ripping us off has passed.
Simply put, there are better, cheaper alternatives to you, and you’ll never get our custom ever again. For those of us looking just to save a few bucks, this is awesome. But for the millions of expatriates and migrants who use banks and transfer agents to send remittances back home, this is vital.
What do you think? Do you have a clever way of transferring money back home? How do you get your travel money?
Let me know in the comments section below, and we’ll chat.