When my wife wants to receive from or transfer money to her family in her home country, it typically happens through Western Union as that is the most known way. But is it the best way? And if not, which European alternative is better? Wise (formerly known as TransferWise), Revolut or Monese?
All three of these online money transfer fintech companies offer the same in the broadest sense:
- Global online transfer for multiple currencies
- Cheaper money exchange
- Easy registration and use
While these points connect them, each has its selling points. These key points are what will make or break their service for your situation. Or is there one that steals the show?
In this comparison, I try to be as complete as possible when comparing the offers to make sure you can choose the right one for you.
Note that I’m not going to cover the business part. That would take us too far, and those are even more specific to your business needs.
Wise (formerly known as TransferWise)
Wise (formerly known as TransferWise) is a London-based financial technology company founded in January 2011 by Estonians Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus. They have 14 offices around the world from where they provide a platform to easily send or receive money in various currencies.
Around 10 million customers worldwide made use of their service and transferred 67 billion pounds in 2020. And this number is growing year over year.
With so many customers and transactions, it’s bound to be good, no?
What does Wise have to offer?
What does a Multi-currency account mean? You get up to 10 account numbers you can share with others to receive your salary, invoice payments, pension, and profit from shares. Anyone can use these to pay you just like they’d pay a local. All with your one Wise account.
On top of that, the account also offers a debit card if you want to spend in the local currency which is very useful if you travel a lot (post-corona 😉 ).
|Wise Account features|
|Managing an account||Free|
|Money transfer options||Bank transfer, Debit card, Credit card, PISP, Swift
|Holding currencies in your accounts||Free (0.40% for >€15,000)
|Creating multi-currency bank account details||Free|
|Receiving direct money transfers||Free in EUR, GBP, AUD, NZD, CAD, RON, HUF & SGD, and USD ACH or bank debit (7.50 UD for USD wire transfers)|
The debit card is not available everywhere yet, only for residents of the below countries and regions with a Wise account.
It’s quite a long list already, but one glaring absentee is South America. It definitely offers services there, but a debit card is not yet one of them.
|Europe||Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France (only Metropolitan), Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Gibraltar (British Overseas Territory) and the UK Crown Dependencies: Guernsey, Isle of Man, and Jersey|
|Asia||Singapore and Japan|
|Oceania||Australia and New Zealand|
|North America||The US — except for residents in Nevada and Hawaii|
If you are eligible, you have access to these features with the card.
|Wise Debit card features|
|Order a Wise debit card (by MasterCard)||£5 (or equivalent) and free in AUD|
|Replacement card||3 GBP (or equivalent)|
|Supported currencies for spending||200|
|Spending limits||For EUR/GBP: between 2,500 chip & 30,000 online. It depends on transaction type (chip, atm, contactless, stripe, online) and currency type.|
|Spend in available currencies||Free|
|Spend in unavailable currencies||See ‘Exchange rate‘ in The ‘Accounts‘ overview.|
|ATM withdrawals||EU and UK card:
AUD, NZD, or SGP card:
|Max delivery times||SG: 3 working days
UK: 6 working days
EU or JP: 10 working days
US, AU, and NZ: 15 working days
Wise isn’t the only company that offers these services.
Time to take a closer look at the competition. What does Revolut have to offer? Is it the same or are there import differences?
Next up, Revolut!
Just like Wise, this company is based in London. It was founded a bit later than Wise, in 2015, by Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko. Also alike is that they initially offered an online currency exchange platform. However, over time, this has evolved to so much more.
This authorizes Revolut to accept deposits and offer consumer credits but not to provide investment services (Lietuvos bankas, 2018). However, they are working on getting an EEA investment license in 2021.
All of the above means that Revolut can offer more than Wise, but at what price?
What does Revolut have to offer?
The difference in services kicks off with the account-offering. Whereas Wise has one free account with an optional debit card, Revolut offers different tiers. If you choose to pay per year you get 20% off.
With Revolut, I will look for the same features I covered for Wise. Looking at the table makes it apparent that Revolut has a more elaborate fee scheme. While at first glance they appear transparent as well, due to the extra tiers and the different lingo used, it’s not always as obvious how much each transaction will cost.
|Revolut Account features|
|Money transfer options||Bank transfer, Debit card, Credit card, Google Pay, Swift|
|Holding currencies in your accounts||Free in AED, AUD, BGN, CAD, CHF, CZK, DKK, EUR, GBP, HKD, HRK, HUF, ILS, ISK, JPY, MAD, MXN, NOK, NZD, PLN, QAR, RON, RSD, RUB, SAR, SEK, SGD, THB, TRY, USD, ZAR|
|Creating multi-currency bank account details (like IBAN and routing numbers)||Free|
|Receiving direct money transfers||Free in EUR, GBP but you can also receive money from AED, AUD, BGN, CAD, CHF, CZK, DKK, HKD, HRK, HUF, ILS, ISK, JPY, MAD, MXN, NOK, NZD, PLN, QAR, RON, RSD, RUB, SAR, SEK, SGD, THB, TRY, USD, and ZAR. Except for Thai Baht (THB) where there’s a 1% markup. For other rates see ‘Exchange rate’.|
Compared to Wise Revolut offers more in terms of online money transfer. However, they don’t always offer the lowest rates and to get some of the better rates or fewer restrictions you need to pay up, either through a subscription or a fee.
Boiling it down to ‘higher rates’ doesn’t do Revolut justice though. Besides an online money transfer service Revolut offers much more:
- Budgeting tools
- budget envelope system
- Subscription overview
- Junior account
- Crypto and commodities trading
Going over each of these would take us too far. But you can find most details back on the site of Revolut.
Debit card offering
On top of all that, Revolut offers various card options for its users. Not only do you receive a physical card, but you can also have up to 5 virtual ones. Each offers similar features to Wise.
|Revolut Debit card features|
|Order a Revolut debit card (by MasterCard)||1stcard: Free (+ delivery fee)||
|Replacement card||€6 (or equivalent) + delivery fee||free|
|Virtual card(s)||Yes, 5|
|Supported currencies for spending||140|
|Spend in available currencies||Free|
|Spend in unavailable currencies||See ‘Exchange rate‘ in the ‘Accounts‘ overview.|
|ATM withdrawals||€200/m or 5x withdrawal limit||€200/m||€400/m||€800/m|
|More: 2% of the withdrawal min. €1/withdrawal|
|Max delivery times||No estimated delivery dates given.|
What a list! This seems like a foregone conclusion. But before we draw any conclusions, let us look at the third contender, Monese.
Our final contender is Monese. Probably the lesser-known member of the online currency exchange gang. Maybe because of that, a good alternative to the other two big shots?
Monese’s Founder and CEO Norris Koppel started the company after a horrendous experience trying to open a UK bank account as an Estonian immigrant.
It’s more similar to Wise than to Revolut since Monese doesn’t have a banking license either. The similarities end there as Monese has its own approach to the online currency exchange market. Unlike Wise who has one Multi-currency account, Monese offers three different pricing plans.
Could this be a better approach to providing lower fees? Time to find out.
What does Monese have to offer?
You can choose from 3 tiers with Monese. The first one is free whereas Classic and Premium are €5.95/month and €14.95/month respectively.
The monthly prices for the two highest tiers are 30% cheaper if you opt for the yearly subscription.
|Monese account features|
|Creating and managing an account||Free||€5.95/m||€14.95/m|
|Exchange rate||Real mid-market rate +2% (min. £2/€2/8lei)||Real mid-market rate +0.5% (min. £2/€2/8lei)||Real mid-market rate (no fee)|
|Money transfer options||Bank transfer, Debit card, Credit card, PISP, Swift|
|Holding currencies in your accounts||Free but GBP, EUR, and RON account are respectively limited to £40,000, €50,000, or 150,000 lei. Other limits on the Monese site.|
|Creating multi-currency bank account details (like IBAN and routing numbers)||Free|
|Receiving direct money transfers||Free in EUR, GBP, RON|
The signup process is just as straightforward, and just as long-winded, as the other two. However, just like Revolut and unlike Transferwise, you need to install an app to register.
When it comes to cards, Monese is simple like Wise and offers a virtual card like Revolut. Thanks to its relatively simple structure, the costs and fees are straightforward and easy to find.
|Monese Debit card features|
|Order a Monese debit card (by MasterCard)||
|Replacement card||Free (£4.95 / €4.95 / 19.95 lei standard delivery fee applies)||Free|
|Virtual card(s)||Yes, 1|
|Spending limit||£2000 / €2000 / 10,000 lei||£9000 / €9000 / 45,000 lei||Unlimited|
|Spend using available currencies on the card||Free between for GBP, EUR, RON, SEK|
|Spend in other currencies in your account||
|Max delivery times||
Monese also comes with a budgeting feature much like Revolut. Both work in a similar fashion.
With the main features of all three participants covered, which one should you go for?
What about Western Union, Ria or MoneyGram?
This comparison wouldn’t be complete without looking at the more traditional money transferring service of Western Union, Ria, and MoneyGram.
They are still one of the biggest financial services companies globally. Most people use them to transfer money to families across the globe. However, all three traditional players fall short on cost, fees, and features when it comes to pure global money transactions. With many brick and mortar fronts still available worldwide who receive a part of the fee, they will never compete with the online players.
The key selling point of Traditional ‘offline’ money transfer services
What they do have is a particular set of advantages. Thanks to these physical agents or offices, they are easily reachable in many parts of the world that don’t or can’t rely on online services. They offer something the online transaction services are (still) lacking: recognisability, brand awareness, and accessibility.
In my wife’s home country, most still prefer and use physical offices. Heck, besides the younger generation (early 30’s and younger), nobody has ever heard of Wise (or TransferWise), Revolut, Monese, or any other online money transfer service. This will undoubtedly change over the following years, though until then, the dominance of the likes of WesternUnion will remain for some time. And who knows, maybe in 10 years from now, we won’t be talking about Wise or Revolut anymore but instead talk about the only tools of WU, MoneyGram, or Ria.
Which would I recommend?
First, the most obvious conclusion: I do not recommend Monese as a viable option for online money exchange.
- Fewer currencies are available for transfer ‘to’ and ‘from.’;
- Worse rates (but not always) for the available currencies;
- Fewer deposit options;
- Worse customer reviews on Trustpilot;
This leaves us with either Revolut or Wise. Which online money transfer service would I recommend?
Who to choose?
You won’t like it, but … it depends.
Both companies have pros and cons you can attribute to them, with each of them emphasizing something else. Their fee structure reflects this. It’s almost impossible to calculate how much exactly you will pay in fees as it depends on the to and from currency as well as the time.
However, We can draw some general conclusions:
- For Wise, it’s clear, their online money transferring service and the optional debit Card by MasterCard are your go-to for international transfers. It’s also the only choice if Revolut isn’t available in your region or if they don’t offer your home country’s currency. Their overall fee structure is also straightforward.
- Revolut, on the other hand, offers a more extensive service, especially for the EU and UK. They provide a complete package for day-to-day banking with good international transfers but less than Wise. This is an excellent alternative to many European banks shifting towards paid checking accounts (such as ING as of July). Their exchange rate (fee) structure is more complex but very excellent within the EU and UK.
My preferred choice
As for my personal choice, my wife and I will use Wise more from now on. The main reason being that Wise is the only service that actually offers the currency of my wife’s home country.
- Lietuvos bankas. (2018, December 13). Revolut granted specialised bank and electronic money institution licences. https://www.lb.lt/en/news/revolut-granted-specialised-bank-and-electronic-money-institution-licences