‘I’m Robin Hood, with TransferWise I take billions from banks to give them back to workers’

“I like to think I’m like Robin Hood: I take off the banks to give back to the people who work. Why do I do it? Why it can be done and why not make money so much on low-cost operations such as money transfers ”. Kristo Kaarmann is 39 years old and has been CEO and co-founder of TransferWise for 8, the fintech founded in 2011 with the aim of unhinging the banking system by exposing all the tricks of the hidden commissions that the sector feeds on.


Kaarmann was born in Tallin, Estonia, but has lived in London for 13 years. The idea of ​​TransferWise matured in 2007 when, still a consultant at Deloitte, he had to transfer 10 thousand pounds to his Estonian account: “I didn’t realize that the bank would also withhold a commission on the exchange rate and so I paid 500 pounds for that operation, madness. Since then I have started thinking about how to change the system and in 2011 we left ”. According to a McKinsey report, the annual value of commissions on money transfers globally is close to 200 billion dollars: TransferWise’s goal is to reduce it to 20 or maybe 10 billion by controlling – if possible – the largest share.


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The road is long, but the numbers seem to be on Kaarmann’s side. After a start-up phase made up of experiments and a raising of capital which reached 698 million dollars (the last round of 292 million was closed in May, ed), TransferWise has started to grind profits starting from the fiscal year 2016-2017: In March, the last balance sheet recorded profits of 10 million pounds. “We could grow more – says the entrepreneur – but our commitment is to keep commissions as low as possible”.


Meanwhile, investors such as Richard Branson and Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, have joined the company, bringing the company’s valuation to $ 3.5 billion. On the other hand, while the other fintechs are still looking for their way to sustainability, the TransferWise path is clear. Also because the market to attack remains huge.

Richard Branson. REUTERS

“We manage £ 4 billion in transfers per month – allowing our clients to save a billion a year. It is money that no longer enters the coffers of banks because it remains in the pockets of the people who earned it “continues the entrepreneur who does not hide a social approach to the world of work:” Money – he says – is what we get in exchange for time that we dedicate to work. It is not fair that it is stolen from the banks for no reason. I am proud of what we are doing because we empower people to manage their time better without wasting money unnecessarily. Our commissions are all transparent and are at least 5-10 times cheaper than traditional ones “.

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The company has 6 million customers and accounts available in over 170 countries with 49 different currencies: the account is also linked to a debit card that allows you to spend your money in the local currency at no additional cost: “When transferring money from an account at the other you pay only once, then there are no additional costs to use the card. Traditional credit cards, on the other hand, apply conversion fees for each expense “.

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Kaarmann also underlines the growth of business customers which is increasing at the rate of 10,000 new customers per month: “For companies that have suppliers abroad, the savings are enormous and for us it is important because the more the value of transactions increases, the more our turnover increases. business “. Meanwhile, with 1,700 employees in 12 offices around the world, the company expects to hire 750 people by the end of 2020.

“Fintech has proven time and time again that it can offer consumers a better experience at a lower price, but we are convinced that the real magic is building a solid business that can be trusted over the long term. Our point of reference – concludes Kaarmann – is the money we save people every year. Today we have reached one billion pounds a year, but it is still a paltry figure compared to our ambitions “.

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