Until recently, transferring money internationally was a long and expensive process. Typically, bank fees were high — both on the sending and receiving end — on top of currency exchange markup fees. What’s more, international bank to bank transfers can take as long as five days to be completed, which can be a long time for people needing quick access to cash.
Western Union was once the most popular way to transfer funds overseas, but prior to digital technologies, these required a person to physically go to a location to send or receive funds. What’s more, since 2001, international wire transfers have come under greater scrutiny as governments around the world seek to root out money laundering and terrorist plots.
Combined with advances in digital banking technology, the international wire transfer industry was primed for disruption.
Enter Wise (formerly TransferWise). Wise is a global payments technology company with ten million customers that move $6 billion around the world every month. Wise estimates it saves its users about $1 billion monthly on money transfer fees, and with a refined and user-friendly interface, it has become one of the top services for sending money globally.
Wise’s success has fueled the firm’s expansion into new products, particularly multi-currency stored value accounts, accessible online and through a debit card. Wise has also expanded into helping businesses complete cross-border transactions, growing at a rapid clip of 10,000 small businesses each month. Additionally, Wise has integrated with local payment systems around the world, delivering an API enabling local banks and businesses to offer a host of “Powered by Wise” banking and money transfer services.
Global money transfers are probably one of the most regulated financial transactions in the world, and what is possible from a Fintech perspective is largely based on laws and policies, which can shift over time. That’s where this week’s guest on the Fintech Growth Talk comes in. Nick Catino, Global Head of Policy for Wise, joined us on this week’s episode to discuss some of the policy and tech trends happening in Fintech.
At the heart of Wise’s mission, says Catino, is transparency, particularly as it pertains to transparency in fees. Unfortunately, there are minimal legal structures designed to enforce transparency industry-wide. Greater industry transparency, argues Catino, would benefit consumers by ensuring they can access better information on pricing, which ultimately would lower costs. According to Wise’s own research, American consumers and small businesses are charged more than $16 billion in fees and “inflated exchange rates.” What’s more, most consumers don’t really understand how cross-border money transfer prices are calculated. A legal requirement to disclose fees and make exchange rates more transparent will go a long way to lower costs, but it will also contribute to the United Nation’s sustainable development goal of lowering remittance costs to 3% by 2030.
To that end, Wise is a founding member of the Financial Technology Association (FTA), an advocacy nonprofit that advances “the development of trusted, digital financial markets and services.” According to Catino, who’s held various finance-related legislative positions in Congress throughout his career, the FTA is necessary to ensure that Fintech firms have a seat at the policy and legislative table, just as the traditional financial services industry does. Some of the association’s activities include promoting financial education, boosting consumer financial health, ensuring access to fair and transparent products, particularly for marginalized and underserved communities.
Ultimately, says Catino, more open banking will lead to greater innovation, but that can only come from innovation in regulatory frameworks. That’s why FTA also advocates for modernizing regulatory frameworks and compliance structures. It’s certainly not something that will happen overnight, but Catino says that the steps taken today to create more transparent banking and finance policies will help consumers immensely for years to come.
Nick is the Global Head of Policy for Wise, a new kind of financial company for people and businesses that travel, live, and work internationally.
At Wise, he leads interactions with governments and coordinates grassroots consumer education campaigns to modernize and make international payments more transparent. Nick frequently speaks publicly on the intersection of finance, technology, and policy, including at events like Money 20/20 and the Payments Canada SUMMIT, on finance-related podcasts, and has been quoted in media outlets such as Politico, Bloomberg, and many others.
Prior to Wise, he spent a decade specializing in financial services policy for three members of Congress. While Staff Director of the US Senate Banking Subcommittee on International Finance, he was a lead negotiator for the first major banking legislation in a decade, authored several other laws, and influenced countless regulatory actions.
Listen to our full interview with Nick Catino here: