It has been a couple of months since TransferWise started testing its borderless account. In April 2018 they added a debit Mastercard® and launched it to the public. This is a short evaluation after 2 months of daily use.
TransferWise are far from being the first who try to take banking to the level it’s supposed to be in the 21st century. There have been several challenger banks like N26, Monzo or Revolut. Unfortunately, neither are all of them universally available to citizens of all EU countries nor are they always well acclaimed. With its new borderless account TranferWise are departing from their original single purpose of money conversion and joining the challengers in the banking industry.
- Multiple currencies – the account can hold funds in multiple currencies. If you regularly receive money and pay in more than one currency, then it’s possible that this feature would save you money that you would lose due to currency conversions. Of course, you might instead have several accounts in different currencies (each with a different card) but that hardly matches the convenience of a single account.
- Intelligent currency selection – if you hold currencies A, B and C in your account and then try to pay in currency B, TransferWise would primarily use funds from your currency B balance (which is free) and if that is not able to cover the entire transaction, it would then convert money from your currency A and C balances (at mid-market exchange rate but for a fee). The result is that it uses your funds in the cheapest way possible.
- Low fees – most of the features are free (e.g. same currency transfers) and it’s mainly currency conversion that costs money. However, the fee for converting GBP to EUR at mid-market rate is 0.5%. There aren’t many banks that could even get close to this.
I think that the appeal of such an account is undeniable but beware that it’s not perfect. Here is a list of issues I came across (as of July 2018).
- Only partially borderless – you can send money to any supported target currency and you can deposit your own finances from any currency you hold in any of your bank accounts. What is not so obvious is that you can receive money from 3rd parties only in 4 currencies: EUR, GBP, USD, AUD. Not so great if you work in an EU country that hasn’t adopted Euro yet and you want to use your account to receive your salary.
- Limited free ATM withdrawals – you can withdraw 200 GBP per 30 days without a fee. After that there is a 2% fee.
- Missing info in the transactions – I’ve received money from John Doe. A few days later I want to send some money back. Bugger, for some strange reason the transaction details don’t contain John’s IBAN.
- Not part of the Deposit guarantee scheme – while regulated by UK’s FCA, it’s not part of the Deposit guarantee scheme as would be the case for other personal bank accounts in the EU so have this in mind when deciding how much funds you want to keep in that account.
- No recurrent transfers – if you pay somebody the same amount every month (e.g. rent), you might want to setup a recurrent transfer so that you never forget about the payment. This very standard banking feature is unfortunately missing.
- Cannot change card PIN – no big deal but changing of the card PIN is not implemented yet. It is an upcoming feature though.
- Cannot change card limits – you can change the default limits to the maximum limits but you cannot set your own values that would reflect your personal use of the card and thus associated risks.
- Default card currency – no matter where you are from, the base currency of the card is GBP. If you live elsewhere in Europe you might be often asked by cashiers whether you want to pay in the local currency or in GBP (yes, you always want to pay in the local currency). That’s fine when it happens during your one week vacation trip abroad but it gets a bit annoying if it happens daily while in your home country.
- Complicated currency conversion fees – the associated fees are mostly low but if you are dealing with many currencies, remembering what the fee is might not be that easy.
It might look like the problems far exceed the benefits but in reality the problems are more like small annoyances while some of the benefits are rather groundbreaking. It’s obvious that the borderless account is still at the beginning of its journey and might not yet be a complete replacement of a normal bank account but it’s already functioning very well and I feel confident to recommend it for both regular use of multiple currencies as well as a way to save money on a trip to countries that use a different currency.