Transferwise is building on its consumer peer-to-peer cross border payments product by letting businesses use it to pay employees in other countries.
The company recently began a partnership with Seedrs, a Europe-wide equity crowdfunding platform based in the U.K., that allows it to pay employees abroad using Transferwise’s cross-border account. It also said three other European tech startups — Hotjar, Veylinx and Codementor — are using the platform for payroll.
“The number of companies with teams across the globe is increasing, so cross-border payroll is becoming a big issue,” said Erik Edin, Transferwise’s business product manager. “Banks are rarely set up to manage multi-currency payment files, which means finance departments end up wasting time and money.”
Carrying out payroll through Transferwise’s multi-currency account has the potential to change the banking habits of workers who spend their careers temporarily working in different parts of the world, because it eliminates the need for them to get accounts in different countries.
“Banks charge monthly fees — if you have to go to an institution and open an account and if you’re doing that to receive payroll, and being charged a fee to maintain that account, for a lot of folks, they wouldn’t meet that threshold,” said Bryce VanDiver, a partner at Capco.
Transferwise is the latest startup payments provider to offer cross-border payroll services. Companies like ADP, Ceridian and Celergo offer large-scale global payroll systems; Transpay provides businesses cross-border payout solutions that make it easy to send funds directly to freelancers, business partners, and vendors. But Transferwise is easier to use and has more competitive exchange rates than many of its competitors, said Patricia Hines, senior analyst at Celent.
The company’s borderless account lets customers hold up to 28 currencies and customers withdraw funds in local currency even if the sender initiated the transaction in a different currency. It gives the customer local bank account numbers in the U.K., the U.S., Australia and Europe. Both the payer and recipient get the mid-market exchange rate, and the business sending the money pays an upfront fee.
“It’s super simple and very transparent” about its fees, she said. “One of the problems in cross-border payments with banks is you think you’re going to send 100 euros, but then the banks take fees out and the recipient doesn’t often get what they’re expecting — and that’ a problem for invoicing.”
Transferwise is going for a niche of small businesses that employ freelancers — especially when it may not be affordable for small businesses to look to large incumbents for cross-border payroll services, she added. It’s also an area banks wouldn’t see as a profitable enough business line to get into themselves.
“Remittances weren’t exactly their business but that’s basically what they were doing,” said Aite senior analyst Talie Baker. “I have not seen any of the other remittance companies diversifying their businesses the way that Transferwise is — I am wondering what is holding back some of the other players from doing the same thing.”
Financial services companies are increasingly diversifying their products, and Transferwise isn’t an exception among financial startups like SoFi, Wealthfront, Stash Invest and Credit Karma that are growing their service offerings. The end game isn’t necessarily be to become a bank, but to offer just as broad a range of services at scale.