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A fierce battle is taking place in the lucrative foreign exchange (forex) market. Traditionally, banks got our patronage while competing among themselves and money transfer services, such as Western Union and MoneyGram. In the past ten years, the landscape has changed significantly with the rise of financial technology companies (fintechs), which seek to disrupt traditional lines of business, namely, how money is sent between people.
Fintechs leverage the internet and technology to create innovative cost-saving solutions. Also, they focus on keeping overhead costs low to pass savings to their customers. While banks continue to offer terrible rates wrapped in high/hidden fees, some fintechs exchange at interbank/spot rates and charge less than 1 percent or nothing at all.
There are at least a dozen online money transfer companies that offer currency conversion services with some focused mainly on remittance. For example, Remitly enables transfers from the United States to the Philippines, India, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Perú, and El Salvador. However, residents of those countries can’t send money to individuals in the United States. Here is a short-list of companies that facilitate online money transfers:
- Payza (not recommended)
- Ria Money Transfer (not recommended)
- Skrill (not recommended)
- Travelex (not recommended)
- Western Union
- WorldRemit (not recommended)
- Xoom (Owned by PayPal)
Azimo doesn’t appeal to me. Although it charges low fees, its exchange rates aren’t the best. Furthermore, the pool of countries in which I can send money is shallow and excludes the United States. Azimo appears to be a small, regional player in Europe and nothing more. For instance, I can only select from a handful of European countries when I attempt to set up my profile. Furthermore, Azimo doesn’t offer me enough services to manage my money. By contrast, PayPal, Revolut, and TransferWise provide multiple services for global citizens, remote workers, digital nomads, and frequent travelers. All three offer a range of services, including money transfer services, current accounts, and prepaid debit cards. Let’s review what PayPal, Xoom (a PayPal company), Revolut, and TransferWise offer individuals (not businesses).
Launched in 1998, PayPal is a global online payments platform that supports online money transfers, shopping online, and many other financial services. It’s on a mission to democratize financial services so that moving and managing money is a right for all citizens, not just the affluent.
PayPal focuses on empowering people and businesses to join and thrive in the global economy. Available in more than 200 markets around the world, the PayPal platform, including Braintree, Venmo, and Xoom, enables consumers and merchants to receive money, withdraw funds, and hold balances in many different currencies.
PayPal is available on Apple and Google Play app stores and offers a web app. It has a “bad” rating on Trustpilot. PayPal’s services and products include:
- Current account
- Donation transfer
- Money transfer
- Online payment
Founded in 2015, Revolut is on a mission to facilitate global spending and transfers at the best exchange rates. Individual or business, Revolut is the only banking alternative designed for a worldwide lifestyle. It offers free and premium products and services at affordable monthly prices.
Revolut focuses on today’s hyper-connected world by being a progressive financial partner. It wants to adapt to your needs, give you control, and continuously push you into new and exciting spaces. It welcomes customers to a world of better money management.
Revolut is available on Apple and Google Play app stores. It has an “excellent” rating on Trustpilot.
- UK and EU current accounts
- Commission-free investment account
- Commission-free cryptocurrency account
- Interest-bearing account
- Money transfer
Founded in 2011, TransferWise is on a mission to make a positive, irreversible change in the world of finance. Built by and for people who live global lives, TransferWise makes sending money abroad fair, accessible, and up to eight times cheaper than traditional banks and money transfer companies.
TransferWise focuses on people on every continent to help them live, travel, and work internationally. It wants to support a financial experience without borders to support instant, convenient, transparent, and eventually free money movement. Transferwise also processes money transfers for many challenger banks, including N26, Bunq, and Monzo.
TransferWise is available on Apple and Google Play app stores and offers a web app. It has an “excellent” rating on Trustpilot.
- Current account
- Money transfer
Money Transfer Services
- PayPal offers single-currency transfers. When users send and receive money in the same currency, no fee is applied. Sending money in the same currency can be accomplished through PayPal and Venmo (within the U.S. only).
- Revolut offers single-currency transfers. When users send and receive money in the same currency, no fee is applied.
- TransferWise doesn’t support single-currency transfers. It’s a currency conversion service, so it doesn’t receive and send out the same currency in a single transfer.
Regarding foreign exchange transactions, there are a few items to consider:
- The quoted exchange or conversion rate. The best exchange rate you can get is known as the real-time or mid-market rate. I call it the “Google rate” because Google showcases real-time rates between two currencies in its search results. Most money transfer providers quote non-real-time rates to profit from bid-ask spreads. For example, if real-time rates are 1.31/1.32, a dealer might quote 1.28/1.35. The dealer would buy at 1.28 and sell at 1.35.
- The fixed or percentage-based fee. Companies will quote a fixed or percentage-based rate to convert currencies. For example, $3.99 or 1 percent of the total amount exchanged.
- Funding methods. Funding methods may include bank transfer, debit card, credit card, or cash for in-person transfers.
- Ways to send money. Ways to send money might include in-person, phone, online, and app.
- Ways to receive/collect money: Ways to accept money might include bank account, online money account, and cash pickup.
- Processing times. Processing times vary depending on how a transfer is funded, sent, and received. For online transfers, the process can take minutes to a few business days.
- Transparency. Transparency refers to how transparent a company is regarding its exchange rates, fees, and processing times. For example, the company provides a transfer calculator/transaction estimator and does not force a user to create an account or submit payment before getting transaction details.
- Tracking. Tracking methods might include SMS/mobile notification, email notification, account activity/status, and customer support.
- Currencies. Currencies matter to the point that the currency or currencies you need are supported.
PayPal doesn’t transact mid-market rates. They state, “We receive a wholesale rate quote from our bank twice a day.” It charges a currency conversion fee of 2.5 to 3.5 percent. Funding methods include PayPal balance, bank transfer, debit card, credit card, and PayPal Credit. Users can send money through their website and app. Recipients must have PayPal accounts to receive money. Regarding transparency, processing details are all over the place, for example, on its PayPal fees page, and in its user agreement. Also, customers learn of transaction outcomes right before clicking submit.
Xoom doesn’t use mid-market rates. They say, “Exchange rates are based on world currency markets, which change all the time. Foreign exchange rates listed in newspapers or elsewhere are generally wholesale or inter-bank rates that are not available for individuals.” Xoom charges a fixed fee, which may be waived depending on the payment method, transfer amount, currency selection, and receiving option. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through Xoom’s website and app. Recipients can receive money in one of three ways including cash pickup, bank deposit, or home delivery. Regarding transparency, Xoom provides fee and exchange rate calculators on its “Fees and Exchange Rates” page.
Revolut uses mid-market rates but states,
If you exchange currencies on weekdays (Mon-Fri UTC) you will receive the interbank exchange rate without any markup on all currencies except for Thai Baht, Russian Rubbles, Ukrainian Hryvnia, and Turkish Lira where we add a 1% markup, with a small 0.5% fee for anything above £5,000 each month. On the weekend (Sat-Sun UTC) we fix the rate we provide to protect ourselves against fluctuations, this means we apply markups of:
- +0.5% to all major currencies (ie. USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, NZD, CHF, JPY, SEK, HKD, NOK, SGD, DKK, PLN, and CZK); and
- +1% to all other currencies including THB, RUB, UAH and TRY. (this means over the weekend THB, RUB, UAH, and TRY have a 2% markup.)
Since the interbank exchange rate is constantly fluctuating, the rate that we lock in for the weekend may not be the same as the rate that is available when the markets open on Monday morning. (Source: Revolut-What foreign exchange rate will I get?)
Revolut does not charge a currency conversion fee for transfers up to £5,000 or equivalent per rolling month, after which a 0.5 percent fair usage fee applies. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through its app. Recipients can receive money into their bank accounts and Revolut current accounts.
TransferWise uses mid-market rates. It charges a combination of percentage and fixed fees. Percentage fees range from 0.3 to 2 percent, in most cases, depending on the payment method, transfer amount, and currency selection. Funding methods include bank transfer, debit card, and credit card. Users can send money through their website and app. Recipients can receive money into their bank accounts and TransferWise current accounts. Regarding transparency, TransferWise has an exchange rate and fee calculator on its homepage.
PayPal and Xoom don’t provide mid-market rates, and their fees are high compared to other providers. Revolut and TransferWise exchange at mid-market rates and charge small fees. While Revolut promotes mid-market rates and free transfers, it has weekend markups and monthly limits.
A current (checking) account is a bank account that allows you to conduct everyday financial activities such as deposits, withdrawals, bill payments, and recurring payments. A current account typically doesn’t attract interest but may receive if it maintains a minimum amount as set forth by the bank, for example, £25,000.
PayPal offers a current account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, pay for goods and services online, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Xoom doesn’t offer a current account.
Revolut offers a current account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Users can get international bank account numbers (IBANs) for the UK and Europe.
TransferWise offers a current account, which allows users to deposit and withdraw funds, send and receive funds, request funds, and hold and convert multiple currencies. Users can get bank account details for the UK, US, EU, Australia, and New Zealand.
The big three all have prepaid debit cards as a regional product. PayPal’s card is available to US citizens, whereas Revolut and TransferWise issue cards to UK, EEA, and Swiss residents.
When comparing prepaid debit cards, consider the following:
- Features and benefits
- Delivery method/cost, card purchase, secondary cardholder, and replacement fees and options
- Monthly fees
- Transaction, purchase, withdrawal, and ATM fees
- Daily and monthly transaction limits
- Funding fees and options to reload, deposit, transfer, and top up
- Card issuer and operator (the company behind the card like Mastercard or Visa)
- Rewards and perks
- Exchange rate and currency conversion fees and policies
PayPal, Revolut, and TransferWise offer more than many established money transfer companies. They are responding to technological changes and mindful of customer needs. Although all three companies have strengths and weaknesses, they can fully support your financial objectives no matter where you are in the world. However, I must stress that you’ll want to avoid using PayPal and Xoom for currency conversion transactions because of their egregious fees. It turns my stomach to think about how many people are losing out with those providers.