I received questions in e-mails about where I receive my income as a Digital Nomad, which bank I have account with as a private individual and as a business owner. I know, you can find info on many websites but I also know, often a honest review and recommendation helps far more.
There is a Money Services provider out in the Market, which I have account with almost since they operate. This company is Wise (formerly knows as TransferWise) and I can recommend them the most.
Wise was founded by Estonian businessmen Taavet Hinrikus (a first Skype employee) and by Kristo Käärmann (a former financial consultant). The fact, Wise was founded by Estonians will come useful for “us”, Estonian E-residents – that I will explain later, why.
TransferWise was founded 12 years ago, in 2011. Sir Richard Branson has joined soon after the establishment to the existing investors, throwing in $25 million to the business. Numerous websites mentioned this company as one of the hottest tech startups. You can read here more about the history of Wise, quite fascinating! Personally, I loved the concept of making money exchange and transfer cheaper and quicker than at traditional banks. This is all made me tempted opening my TransferWise account in the beginning of 2014.
I closely followed how the company evolved, how new features became available. In the beginning I used the debit card-less account for converting British Pounds to Hungarian Forint. Later, converted Pounds, Euros and US dollars to many currencies during our vagabonding life. When their Debit Card became available, I could take out money abroad from ATMs, I could pay at the tills easily. ATM money withdrawal worked in every country but paying at tills not always, at few shops in Germany (where they accepted only German cards by some reason). I saved hundreds of euros on paying back my student loan in Hungary -using TW-, because of their excellent exchange rates and low transfer fees. Wise’s currency transfer fee is a percentage of the amount being sent and relies on what’s known as the mid-market exchange rate, also called the “real” exchange rate.
At that time, when I signed up, only 100 people operated this tech-startup but the technology was ahead of its time! TW has never let me down, always worked, during the 9 years I was using it. I never had any loss of transaction, troubles with customer service, I did not even experience long outages (max 1 hour what I noticed).
It is a Bonus, I have never paid an account fee neither for my personal and business accounts for the services of Wise. A small transaction fee I had to pay when converted money or sent – usually 0.5 – 1.5%. So far I used my debit card in over 20 countries at shops, restaurants, ATMs, paid for services online.
There was one incident, when I left my TW debit card in a mobile card reader, inside a souvenir shop, in Cancun, Mexico. During night I started receiving text messages of Amazon US transactions, only that was the time when I realised, I lost my card and someone is using it! As soon as I got the messages, I could freeze the card in my app, therefore “only” $300 was spent by someone . In the morning, I gave a call to the TW helpdesk and within 3 days I got all my money back to my account, followed by a new card on the post. To be honest, I did not expect I will get back all money that was stolen, I was so happy and satisfied!
I opened my first TW Business bank account for my own UK Limited company, in 2017. The process was easy and straight forward. There was no monthly account fee, this was one of the reason I switched from my high-street bank account. I received my income to this account and sent forward my salary to my personal account, free.
Later, in 2019 I established my Estonian IT consultancy company. As an e-resident, it is complicated to open a business bank account in Estonia because you must prove, you have more connection to Estonia than just using remotely their services. In order to open a bank account in Estonia, you have to visit a local branch (LHV is the most commonly used bank by e-residents). The problem, not many foreign banks accepts the Estonian company registration certificate, so you have not much chance to open a business bank account which is not a fintech solutions like Wise, or a bank established in Estonia.
Wise is one of the best option to open your business bank account for your Estonian company (and for business in other countries), remotely. As Wise was founded by Estonians, they accept straight away your Estonian company formation certificate. All you need is to have a personal account and then you can open a business account, both linked together, available from one app. Generally, you can have one person account and one business account as an individual. After a quick chat support, I explained my situation that beside my British personal and Business account I want to have a second Business account for my Estonian company. I was allowed to open a new personal account with a new e-mail address and then I could associate it with a new Business account. How cool!
On your business account, you get 0.5% cash back as you spend. Approximately 60% of your money is in secure liquid assets such as UK and US Government bonds and money market funds (as of 13 March 2023). The other 40% is in cash in reputable banks.
In the recent years, Wise introduced some investment tools. You can invest money into Shares or Interest. I have started contributing money to my Shares and Interest money jars only recently, in my opinion both are better for long term investment. Shares are generally more risk but you can gain more with than with Investment. The company, instead of investing your money into one particular share, invests it multiple shares and if one goes down, other shares can still go up, therefore less chance you lose your investment. You can decide to invest your money into Interest, that pays 2-5% interest, depending on your currency, this is obviously a safer investment but with lower profit. Refer to this link about what are the risks of investing into Stocks on Wise.
For difference between Business and Personal accounts refer to this post.
One of the feature I use and very valuable is the Wise Rate alerts. This can save you loads of money and time, especially if you regularly exchange into multiple currencies. You can set the desired exchange rate and then just wait, you do not need to check the rates every day, you will get notified in an e-mail if rates go up or down, to your desired rate. Wise Rate Tracker tool. There is also a recent feature of “Auto convert”, which automatically converts your selected currency to a desired one, on the rate you want.
It is important to highlight, Wise is not a bank but a Money Service Business (MSB). Why better to use an MSB than an online bank like N26, Revolut? One of the benefit is that in most countries WISE has no OECD report requirement (not reporting to tax authorities – or not required, the responsibility is for the account holder). Not covered by FSCS, does not have a banking license, but is covered by the FCA. Refer to this Blog about Wise versus international banks. Read this blog post about Wise versus other banks in Europe. This post is a must read about how Wise is regulated financial authorities county by county. An other advantage (or disadvantage) that you do not have to visit a branch to change your address or deal with a problem related to your account – you can edit your personal details online, you can use the very convenient chat support, or you can just give a call to the support.
Revolut has a banking license, therefore has an OECD requirement too, which means your money stored there is “monitored” by the financial authorities. Revolut is more strictly regulated by countries due to their banking license, therefore they have to be more bureaucratic. Other differences are on this blog.
I like both the online GUI and mobile phone application of Wise. Easy to login and navigate through, safe (2-factor authentication is available), the website responds fast and the application is lightweight and not “buggy”.
How to sign up? As this is an online money service provider, they have no branches you can walk in. You can Sign Up online here. You get a fee-free transfer up to €500 when you sign up with this link. Usually, the sign up is easy, especially when you open your personal account. The business account need some more documents but with some attention and luck, you can get this account easily too.
Summary: My opinion, as a Wise user for 9 years, Wise is a safe, reliable and cheap money service provider. For everyday life when I am in my home country, I am keep using traditional banks and have banks accounts with them, simply because of convenience and for the benefits I get (mobile phone insurance, car breakdown cover, worldwide travel insurance, free cash withdrawal).
You can now set up Direct Debits and schedule transfers, like on your traditional bank account. I would be satisfied to have an account on Wise on its own because it is giving me all features I need for my everyday banking. It would be nice if Wise would provide credit card services with low interest rates or an overdraft limit to the accounts – maybe these will be the next add-ons in the near future.