Wise vs International Bank Transfer: What’s the Difference?

Trying to decide between Wise (formerly TransferWise) vs international bank transfer for your next cross-border payment? Wondering if it’s worth using Wise or if you should just stick to sending money with your bank? This guide has you covered.

In this in-depth comparison of Wise (TransferWise) vs international transfers with regular banks, we’ll walk through the differences in price, speed, safety, ease of use, and more. Plus, we’ll take a look at how different transfer amounts and currencies can make a difference to the overall cost.

TransferWise vs international bank transfer: overview

Price: Wise is cheaper. On average, Wise is around 3.5% – 4% cheaper with better exchange rates and more transparent fees.

We compared Wise to leading Australian banks to see the costs of sending $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 to an account held in GBP. We found that Wise’s costs are up to about 4% cheaper than banks. The savings you could make only grew as the transfer amount went up – your recipient would get almost 200 GBP more if you used Wise instead of Westpac when sending a transfer of $10,000.

Speed: Wise is faster. Banks can often take 3-5 working days to send money abroad. With Wise 40% of payments are instant, and 80% arrive within 24 hours

Safety: Wise is as safe as a bank for international transfers. In Australia, Wise holds an Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) and is a Purchased Payment Facility authorised by APRA.

Transparency: Wise has more of a focus on transparency than many major banks. You’ll always see the Wise fees before you make your payment, and there are no extra costs hidden in the exchange rate. Intermediary costs are also eliminated, so you’ll know what your recipient will get in advance. Bank international transfers usually include an exchange rate markup, and may incur intermediary fees if they’re sent using SWIFT. We’ll cover this more later.

Ease of use: You can open a free Wise account online or via the Wise app. To keep your account safe there is a verification process, which may be instant but can take up to 2 days. Banks may also need to ask for verification when you send a payment, to comply with financial legislation.

Overall: Wise is often cheaper and faster than regular banks because they move money in a more efficient way. Instead of relying on the outdated SWIFT network like most banks do, Wise has built its own payment network. That’s cheaper, faster, and more transparent, so Wise can pass those benefits on to its customers. Since being founded in 2011, Wise has grown quickly and is now trusted by over 10 million customers all around the world.

Go To Wise

How much can you save with Wise?

To get an idea of how much you can save with Wise vs international transfers with a regular bank, let’s look at how much your recipient will get with international transfers made with Wise versus a couple of leading Australian banks.

Here’s a rundown of what your recipient will get when sending a range of different payments from Australia to the UK, to be received in British pounds.

Amount & CurrencyWith Wise recipient getsWith ANZ recipient getsWith Westpac recipient gets

Amount & Currency With Wise recipient gets With ANZ recipient gets With Westpac recipient gets
1,000 AUD – GBP 526.95 GBP 505.98 GBP
(20.97 GBP less than with Wise)
503.10 GBP
(23.85 GBP less than with Wise)
5,000 AUD – GBP 2,634.56 GBP 2,546.72 GBP
(87.84 GBP less than with Wise)
2,534.31 GBP
(100.25 GBP less than with Wise)
10,000 AUD – GBP 5,268.91 GBP 5,095.81 GBP
(173.10 GBP less than with Wise)
5,071.49 GBP
(197.42 GBP less than with Wise)

 

*Data correct at time of research – 21st February 2022

As you can see, in our comparisons, your recipient would get more in the end with Wise every time. That’s because Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate, while most banks add a markup – an extra fee – to the rates they use. More on that and what it means in just a moment.

How can Wise be cheaper than international bank transfers?

It’s natural to wonder what Wise is doing differently to be able to move money faster and cheaper than traditional banks. To understand what’s different about Wise payments vs international bank transfers, it helps to know a little about how banks usually process cross border payments themselves.

Regular banks usually process international payments with the  SWIFT network – a messaging system that’s been in operation for around 50 years. It’s established and reliable – but it’s not often fast or cheap. That’s because SWIFT transfers can involve one or more intermediary or correspondent banks moving your money along until it reaches the destination account. This takes time to arrange – and the banks involved can also charge a fee, pushing up costs.

Wise took a different approach. Instead of using SWIFT, Wise built its own payment network which cuts out intermediaries – and the costs and delays associated with them.  When you make a Wise payment you fund it by sending money to the Wise local bank account in Australia. Wise then passes on the equivalent amount to the recipient from their account in the destination country. No money ever crosses any borders, which cuts a lot of the costs, inefficiency and waste from the system. These savings are passed to customers through lower fees and better exchange rates.

Go To Wise

Wise vs international bank transfers: the costs explained

Here’s how the key costs break down with Wise:

ServiceWisefee

Open your account Free
Monthly fees Free
Send international payments From 0.35%
Receive international payments Free to receive payments in 10 currencies to your Wise account – including USD ACH transfers
7.50 USD charge to receive a USD wire payment

Comparing the costs of opening and using a regular bank account against Wise can be a little tricky because the fees you pay vary widely between banks and account products. Some accounts have a monthly service fee, and you’ll almost always have to pay a range of transaction fees when you send or receive money from abroad. Here’s an overview of some typical costs:

ServiceTraditional bank fee

Open your account Minimum opening deposit may apply
Monthly fees Checking account fees can be around 5 AUD/month, but may be waived if you maintain a fixed minimum balance
Send international payments Often 10 AUD – 30 AUD
Receive international payments Some banks allow free payments – others charge up to 35 AUD

You might still prefer to have a regular bank checking account for day to day use, but when it comes to sending your international payment you could save by  choosing a specialist provider like Wise.

It’s free to open a Wise account and there are no maintenance fees, no minimum balance and no inactivity charge. You’ll only ever pay for the services you use and you may be able to make convenient international payments online and in the Wise app for less than you could with your normal bank.

Exchange rates: not what they seem

Exchange rates move around all the time, and to make it even more confusing, banks and specialist providers may offer different rates for the same transaction.

However, understanding the way exchange rates are calculated by banks and money transfer services can save you money and may also mean you avoid hidden fees.

Banks and money transfer services tend to buy currency themselves using the mid-market exchange rate. That’s the rate you’ll find on Google and with a currency converter tool. However, banks don’t often pass this rate on to their customers. Instead they’ll add a markup – an extra fee – to the rate you see when you set up your  international transfer. That makes it harder to calculate what you’re really paying for your transfer – and it can mount up quickly when you send higher value payments.

Wise is working to make financial services more transparent, as well as driving down overall costs. When you make a Wise international payment you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. Instead, Wise changes a small variable fee per transaction which is split out from the exchange rate to make it easier to see exactly what you’re paying.

SWIFT: the unexpected cost

We introduced the SWIFT system earlier. It’s preferred by traditional banks because it’s been used for many years, so it’s well understood and reliable. Under the SWIFT system, your payment is processed through one or more intermediary banks until it reaches the right destination account. Naturally, intermediary banks want to cover their costs and so they charge fees for the service they provide when processing your transfer.

However, the full costs of sending a SWIFT payment often can’t be known in advance. This can mean fees are deducted without you knowing it, which leaves your recipient with less than you expected.

Wise doesn’t use the SWIFT network to process payments, so you’ll be able to see exactly what your recipient will get in the end before you confirm your transfer.

How does Wise work?

Wise is a financial technology company, not a bank. It was created to offer customers faster, cheaper and more efficient ways of moving money compared to old-school banks.

Open your Wise account online or in the Wise app for free, and send payments to 80+ countries. You’ll also be able to get a Wise multi-currency account to hold 50+ currencies, get paid for free from overseas, and avoid foreign transaction fees when you shop with an international debit card.

Open a Wise Account

Wise vs traditional banks: comparing the features

Wise was built to help customers make better international money transfers. On the other hand, cross-border payments are just not core business for traditional banks. That’s one of the reasons why many regular banks haven’t invested in ways to make international payments cheaper, faster and easier for customers.

The good news is that you have plenty of choices when it comes to managing your money across borders. Your regular bank isn’t necessarily the best choice based on cost, speed or efficiency. Here’s a comparison of a few key features of Wise compared to using a bank:

Wise Traditional Australian banks
Built with international payments in mind International payments are an additional service, not offered for all account holders
Mid-market exchange rate Exchange rates normally use a markup
Transparent fees International payments can include several different fees, including third party costs and an exchange rate markup
Estimated delivery time provided instantly You may not know how long your payment will take
Free to open multi-currency account options Multi-currency accounts may come with monthly fees or restrictive eligibility criteria
Spend internationally with linked debit card and no foreign transaction fee International card payments often have a foreign transaction fee to pay

Delivery time: is Wise faster than banks?

Some banks  can tell you when you should expect your payment to arrive – but it’s common not to know exactly when your recipient may get their funds.

Bank transfers won’t be processed out of hours, on holidays or weekends. Banks also tend to have payment cutoff times. Miss the cutoff for your transaction type, and your money won’t even start to move until the next working day.

The exact length of time it takes to send a cross-border payment with a bank varies by destination, currency, and the recipient’s own bank. However, SWIFT payments can often take 3 – 5 business days to arrive.

Let’s compare that with the delivery speeds estimated by Wise at the time of research – we looked at a few currency routes to give a flavour:

Transfer routes Wise
AUD – GBP Estimated to arrive in seconds
AUD – EUR Estimated to arrive within 6 hours
AUD – INR Estimated to arrive in seconds

*Correct at time of research 21 February 2022

International payment delivery times – from a regular bank or Wise – can vary based on where you’re sending to and the recipient bank’s own processes. However, Wise can usually get your money moving quickly, and its delivery times will often beat the bank significantly.

Wise vs international money transfer: is it safe?

Wise isn’t a bank. But as a financial technology company it is bound by many of the same rules as a bank – and for the services it offers it’s regulated just like banks are.

Wise was built with customer safety at its heart. As well as being fully licensed and regulated in all countries it operates in, it also employs a range of manual and automated processes to make sure customer funds are kept safe. These include thorough account verification and anti-fraud measures.

Learn more about Wise safety and regulation here.

Transparency: watch out for the hidden costs

Wise makes it easy to see the full costs of your international payment by using the mid-market exchange rate and showing processing costs as a separate line. No intermediaries are used, so there are no hidden costs to worry about either.

Banks aren’t usually as transparent. Bank exchange rates often include a markup. That’s an extra fee but because it’s already rolled into the exchange rate you’re offered it’s harder to see exactly what you’re really paying. Then there are potential intermediary charges which can’t always be known in advance. Get caught out by these and your recipient may get less than you expect in the end.

Wise vs international bank transfers: ease of use

Here’s how Wise vs banks stack up when it comes to ease of use:

Wise: accounts can be registered online or in the Wise app. You’ll then need to upload images of your documents for verification. Wise payments can be instant, with most arriving within 24 hours. There are transfer limits but you can also make several payments if your ideal transfer value takes you over the limit for your currency. Customer support is available instantly in the Wise app – or by phone or email if you’d prefer.

Banks: depending on the specific bank you might be able to set up an account online and upload your documents for verification. If not, you’ll need to visit a branch. Bank transfers can take 3 – 5 working days. Transfer limits vary by account type and provider. You can often get customer support online, by phone and in branch.

With Wise the process of transferring money abroad can be easier and faster than with banks. From registration to transferring money can take just a day.

Coverage

Wise payments can be sent to 80+ countries, and you can hold 50+ currencies in your Wise account.

Foreign currency account products from major banks usually only cover a handful of major currencies like USD, EUR and GBP. Most banks offer payments on common currency routes, but less popular routes may not be available or may take longer to arrive.

TransferWise vs international bank transfers: pros and cons

Wise Banks
Pros
  • Mid-market exchange rate with no markup
  • Low, transparent fees
  • Fast transfers – usually arrive in 24 hours at most
  • Arrange a payment in branch or by phone if you prefer
  • Familiar and reliable service
Cons
  • No branch service
  • Fees vary by destination country and currency
  • Exchange rates usually have a markup
  • Fees can be high

Wise international payments are often cheaper and faster than payments made with regular banks. If you’d rather make your payment in person in a branch then your bank might be right for you – otherwise, you may be able to save with Wise.

Conclusion

Sending your international payment with your normal bank might seem like the obvious choice – but it’s not usually the cheapest or fastest.

Banks aren’t specialists in international payments. That can mean that bank international transfers rely on outdated processing methods and have high fees and slow processing times. Providers like Wise, on the other hand, were built with international transfers in mind, and take a more modern approach to get your money moving for less.

FAQ:

1. Is Wise better than a bank?

Wise isn’t a bank and doesn’t offer all the same services a regular bank might. But  if you want international transfers or a multi-currency account, Wise has a better range and lower costs than many banks.

2. Is Wise a bank?

Wise is not a bank, but it’s regulated in much the same way as a bank is for the services it provides.

3. How does Wise work?

Get your free Wise account online or in the Wise app, and arrange transfers online and on the go whenever you need to.

4. Is Wise safe to transfer money?

Wise holds an Australian Financial Services Licence and is overseen by regulatory bodies all around the world. It’s a safe way to send and hold foreign currency payments.

5. Is Wise cheaper than banks?

In our cost comparisons, Wise had lower overall fees and a better exchange rate than traditional banks.

By Ileana Ionescu Updated March 25th, 2022