Since their launch in Singapore two months ago, global fintech company TransferWise have made quite the name for themselves.
Their multi-currency card first caught our attention by claiming to offer the same exchange rate as the one found on Google, and the company then pledged to give away $150,000 to individuals and small businesses hit by hidden bank fees in cross-border transactions.
Being the cynic that I am, however, my initial reaction was one of intense skepticism. Their service had lofty aspirations of essentially rendering money changers obsolete, and changing the way people travel forever.
Was this too good to be true?
Fortunately, I had the perfect opportunity to find out — I was in Bangkok for the TransferWise’s media preview, and decided to extend my trip to see if I could survive overseas with nothing but this green card in my wallet.
A Promising Preview
Before getting into my journey in the Land of Smiles, there are a few things that are probably worth mentioning.
The first thing is that getting the Transferwise card itself is a pretty straightforward affair — after creating an account on the TransferWise website all I had to do was to upload a document containing my name and address (I used a digital copy of my phone bill, but you could alternatively use your Singpass), and I received my card in the mail three days later.
The process was as hassle-free as hassle-free gets (and completely free, no less), and does make you feel like the company knows what they’re doing.
As far as first impressions go, the folks at TransferWise definitely started things on the right note.
After receiving the card, one thing you’ll want to do before your trip is to put money into it. The TransferWise card can hold over 40 currencies, but it’s not a credit card, and you’ll only be able to spend as much as you put in.
This is where the whole “same exchange rate as Google” thing comes into play, and I’m glad to say that TransferWise does quite literally put their money where their mouth is.
1,500 baht, for example, “cost” me $67.78 Singapore dollars, which was virtually identical to the $67.76 shown on Google.
It should be noted, however, that there are two scenarios where you can incur additional fees: firstly, there was a nominal processing fee of 44 cents for this transaction.
That amount increases the more you change, but i’d argue that not having to find a reputable money changer (not to mention the cost of getting there) and is a fair trade for a few coins in your pocket.
The second set of fees is dependent on how fast you want your money. You can opt to send the money via debit/credit card and receive the funds instantly, but that comes with a higher fee. If you aren’t in a rush, you can bank transfer the money over instead, which’ll take about 10 minutes but is significantly cheaper.
To put things in perspective, the fees for the aforementioned transaction via credit card and bank transfer were $2.35 and $0.44 respectively.
The good news is that TransferWise lists all your options clearly — calculations included — so you can make an informed decision before a sending a single cent. And with a virtual handful of baht in my card, off to Bangkok I went.
Faster, Better, Smarter, Safer
The purpose of this experiment was to simulate the average Singaporean holiday, so I kicked things off with something every Singaporean does in Thailand: a massage.
I found a parlour near my hotel with a “WE PREFER MASTERCARD” sign outside, so that seemed like a fitting first place to test the card.
After an hour of much-needed R&R, the moment of truth came as I tried to pay with the TransferWise card — would the transaction go through, or was I going to spend the rest of my trip working in a massage parlour to pay off my bill?
Thankfully the payment was successful, and — because I was technically paying with Baht — didn’t come with any additional bank fees either.
I also received a text notification immediately after transaction went through, and its details were recorded in the TransferWise app as well. On top of that, you can produce a monthly bank statements from the app at any time.
As someone who uses the Notes app in my phone to manually track my expenses while on holiday, this is an added incentive to use the card instead of fumbling around with cash.
After the promising start, I decided to make sure that this wasn’t a one-off thing, and that the card would work in a variety of places. I had dinner at a restaurant (Burger & Lobster) and drinks at a rooftop bar (Above Eleven), and both payments went through without a hitch as well.
At this point you might be wondering: “what happens if I don’t have enough of that particular currency in my account?”.
Well, the cool thing is that TransferWise automatically deducts the money you have in other currencies to make up for the shortfall. And if you have multiple currencies, they’ll intelligently calculate which has the best exchange rate for maximum value.
In fact, you can put all of your money in a single currency — Singapore dollars, for example — and let the card do the calculations on the spot every time you perform a transaction.
You’ll be at the mercy of the exchange rates at the time of payment, but if you don’t want to bother with multiple currencies, this is definitely a viable approach.
The only problem is if you didn’t put enough money in the first place, but that’s something that no card can save you from.
Cash Is (Still) King
While the technology to go completely cashless is definitely there, we’re still a long way from actually realising it.
There are inevitably going to be instances where you need physical money — especially so in a city like Bangkok with night markets and street food on every corner — and thankfully TransferWise has got you covered there as well.
Using the TransferWise card at an overseas ATM overseas is no different from using it in Singapore. The only thing you have to consider is that you might have to pay a nominal bank fee, depending on which one you’re using (withdrawing money in Bangkok came with a $2 fee, while a recent trip to Bali came with no additional cost).
This is an unavoidable part of withdrawing money overseas, but one consolation is that unlike most cards, there aren’t any additional fees on TransferWise’s side.
There’s one last point that didn’t happen to me, but is worth mentioning: in the event that you lose your TransferWise card, you can freeze it immediately from the TransferWise app so that no one can perform transactions while you look for it.
You can unfreeze your card just as easily if you do find it, and this peace of mind eliminates the need to go through the tedious process of cancelling your card the minute you lose it.
Even if your card is lost for good, you can conveniently order a replacement straight from the app completely free. As far as customer service goes, the folks at TransferWise have really got it down pat.
My half-experiment-half-holiday to Bangkok didn’t end up being completely cashless, but the experience yielded some interesting insights nonetheless.
As far as modern establishments go (malls, restaurants, bars…any place with a credit card machine, basically), the TransferWise card works great. And in the event that you do need some cash, withdrawing some isn’t that big of a hassle, either.
The best part about the TransferWise card, however, is still that intangible peace of mind that if offers — thanks to its adherence to the mid-market rate (i.e the one you see on Google), you’ll never have to worry if you got shortchanged at a money changer again.
And if you ever run out of money during your trip, all you have to do is add more through the app, and you’re good to go without leaving your hotel room.
Throw in a few small-but-meaningful features like expense tracking and the ability to freeze your card anytime, and TransferWise Card makes a strong case for being the perfect card for travellers.
And considering that it’s completely free, I don’t see why anyone shouldn’t give it a shot to try it out for themselves.
VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion into our Facebook page.
Header Image Credit: Vulcan Post