Fintech Disruptors: Growing from two friends recognising a simple problem to 800 people in seven countries, how does TransferWise view its success over the 6 years since launch?
Yoni Arbel: Success is a moving feast and it’s important to look at the present separately from the future. We save our global customers £50 million per year by providing an alternative, cheaper, much faster and more transparent way to exchange their funds – an activity touching all ‘internationals’, i.e. everyone spending their time abroad travelling, studying or working.
While we’re seeing our numbers grow, adding countries and growing customers in existing countries, success is more defined in our mission. It’s about the seamless movement of money, an improved experience, lower cost and verification (or even sheer ability to move money). This builds trust.
Looking at the future, success is when the market starts costing the product in line with TransferWise. When banks stop charging excessive mark-ups on money transfers and they are no longer allowed to hide their pricing through marketing – in other words, when our mission becomes the norm/standard, then we’ve won.
Fintech Disruptors: To deploy a product globally presents numerous challenges, not least of which is dealing with different regulatory regimes. What has been your experience?
Yoni Arbel: We are licensed around the world with all authorities – from the EU, Australia, the US and Asia – and this allows us to act as local player in all these markets. This has taken six years and a lot of hard work. What is not discussed enough in fintech is the amount of work involved, dealing with the red tape and a lot of operational overheads. Companies succeed or fail only on execution. It’s about navigating the complexities of a marketplace and successful integration into the existing system.
Looking back at our challenges, we had to constantly ask ourselves how fast we should move. Do we move slowly and do it properly, or do we go fast and haphazardly? In some countries we bit off more than we could chew and had to launch three times. There is not much we could have done differently but we learnt valuable lessons.
Regulators are not against companies and for the banks – but they are slow to respond to innovation, literally having to change the letter of the law. It is a whole new ball game for them. Look at cryptocurrencies for example. There are simply not enough skilled people at regulators to handle or audit this.
Fintech Disruptors: What does it require to build a company from a start-up to a multinational?
Yoni Arbel: Our culture is a big reason for our success. We are built for speed with autonomous teams in each country and each currency operating with minimum intervention. Our people own business problems at the lowest level of the organisation and individuals can directly influence our products and the treatment of customers.
Fintech Disruptors: How do you see the future of fintech?
Yoni Arbel: We will move from talking about fintech to calling it financial services. If you do fin without tech you’re doing something wrong. Fintech is no longer a big deal.
It is becoming about what we can achieve with financial services that we were not able to achieve before. I hope to see more customer empowerment – I want to see customers owning their information, their credit score and their compliance information. They should shop around for any kind of service and be able to access financial services of any type, moving around and switching providers like they do mobile phone providers.
I’d like to see this happening across borders. The experience in the EU must be similar to the experience in the US, Africa, Singapore – you should be able to have the best choice of any service in the world.
Fintech Disruptors: And your views on the perceived talent shortage and the effects of Brexit on the UK?
Yoni Arbel: I’m not afraid of a shortage of talent. The truth of the matter is that finance is not more sophisticated than pharma, aerospace etc – with demand will come the talent. Traditional financial services are already cutting headcount as they don’t need as many resources. Also, our talent pool is global. TransferWise has strong bases of operation in Europe. Our largest office is in Talinn where we have 400 people. I don’t expect to see our office structure changing substantially because of Brexit.
London is still very well placed in the global market and there is enough knowledge and talent here. I don’t see Brexit as a barrier. In our sector London will continue to flourish and while Brexit might reduce competition for European talent, I don’t believe there’s a risk to business or to London as a fintech hub.