High street banks are rarely spoken about positively. If it’s not the reckless behavior behind the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, the news is usually covering scam loans, staff layoffs, or how a bank boss is denouncing the viability of cryptocurrency. One thing that rarely gets covered though, is how extortionate their customer-facing foreign exchange is.
Wire fees remain at an average of ~$45 among American banks when sending money overseas in 2022. This is a high cost that most of us are aware of, but overlook just how poor of a service we get in return for the high price, taking 1 to 5 business days for a transfer of funds to complete.
It’s actually the exchange rate that the customer receives which is truly shocking. US banks are known to routinely take between 3-6% as an exchange rate markup. Meaning that instead of receiving the current rate of €1.04 for a US dollar, there’s a good chance they will receive below €1.
For a business paying European suppliers €100,000 a year for stock or materials, they could be wasting many thousands of dollars merely on uncompetitive exchange rates. Yet, many are seemingly unaware of this hidden fee. It’s arguably a bigger problem for American expats, who rely on receiving their pension into a US bank. When this money is sent overseas, they’re losing out on hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year in living standards.
The best solutions for transferring money abroad
There are cheaper ways to send money of course, which makes it all the more surprising that US banks are not willing to offer more competitive fees and markups. There are many methods for transferring money internationally online, but dedicated money transfer companies are the most compelling.
Money transfer companies are streamlined currency specialists that focus on delivering fast online transfers at very competitive rates (sub 1% markup and often no fees). How do they do this? In short, because they have to. Because there has been a race to the bottom among these specialists, unlike banks which rely on other revenue streams and value – like credit cards, loans, and deposit security.
But the technology and business model are completely different, and through not relying solely on SWIFT along with an efficient mobile app, these money transfer companies are able to offer currency at nearly the interbank rate.
4 money transfer companies to consider
The market is saturated with different money transfer companies, which is a good thing for competition. But, it can make it time-consuming to find the right one. Below is a narrowed-down list of the top four companies that all offer something slightly different.
OFX is an Australian money transfer company that handles mass online payments with ease. When transferring money internationally, OFX almost has it all. Traditionally, the company focused on larger transfers and its USP was to offer currency experts from around the world and deliver top-tier service. But in the past few years, they’ve realized how big the market is for smaller transfers, and so dropped their minimum transfer limit to $100 and updated their mobile apps. Virtual bank accounts can be created in the US, UK, Australia, NZ, and Hong Kong, and offer 24/7 support. A truly global provider.
OFX has a 4.8 out of 5 rating on the App Store. Users claim it’s very easy to register and use, secure, and very clear in letting them know what they need from the recipient in order to complete the transfer.
Wise comes at the money transfer problem from a different angle. Instead of having a $100 minimum transfer limit, they focus on transfers under or around this amount. Wise is a London-based unicorn company that spearheaded app-centric, accessible money transfers. Virtual banks and currency wallets can be created in many countries, and fees are under 1% on average. This is perhaps the cheapest way to transfer money abroad for small amounts and is a leader among the money transfer apps. But, it has no real phone support, no dedicated dealer, and isn’t ideal for larger transfers. In short, it serves a different purpose than OFX.
With a 4.6 out of 5 on the App store, Wise users boast that the platform is exceptionally fast and intuitive, with a well-visualized wallet space. Any issues that do arise tend to be around the Live Chat support. The breakdown of fees on each transfer makes Wise one of the most transparent money sending apps.
Currencies Direct is a great way to send money online for cheap, fitting more into the OFX category. As far as money-sending apps go, like OFX it doesn’t have the best user interface. But, it has incredible support from specialist dealers that can provide sophisticated transfers, like hedging and business FX solutions. Multi-currency accounts are available, and with no fixed transfer fee, Currencies Direct remains to be a competitive way to transfer money abroad.
Currencies Direct has the worst app reviews of the four, being 3.6 out of 5. Users claim it’s easy and quick to transfer currency, but it’s heavy with notifications, and the app no longer works on older iPhones. Though, many appreciate the price alert features.
Remitly is a Seattle-based company that really encompasses the remittance aspect of FX. Remitly is more akin to the Wise model, which focuses on having an incredible mobile app but no dedicated dealer or hedging. A unique aspect of Remitly, though, is their ability to not only deliver bank-to-bank transfers but door-to-door cash delivery. Remitly’s platform is a joy to use and has one of the highest-rated apps among its competitors.
Its 4.9 out of 5 app reviews speak for themselves. Sometimes the time processing can be wrong, but customer services have been known to give compensation for inconveniences. All in all, the app delivers an exceptionally intuitive user interface with all its capabilities easy to find.