Tim Cameron is Australia New Zealand Country Manager for Transferwise. Transferwise launched in 2011 with the vision of making international money transfers cheap, fair and simple. They now have over 7 million customers and process over US $5 billion per month in international transactions. With investors including Sir Richard Branson, and PayPal founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, Transferwise is one of the world’s most successful and profitable FinTech.
You have quite a few years of history with the Transferwise business. Could you share a little bit more about what Transferwise does?
Transferwise is a global technology company. We’re building the best way to move money around the world. We make it possible for our customers to send, spend and receive money internationally at the real exchange rate.
The business started about 10 years ago. Our founders Taavet (Hinrikus) and Kristo (Käärmann) are two friends from Estonia. Working in London, being paid in one currency but having expenses in another whilst honouring commitments back home made them realise how much money they were being charged each month. They quickly worked out a reciprocal agreement to help make money transfers amongst themself in the currencies they needed, using Reuters exchange rate online to figure out the fairest exchange rates.
When their friends heard about it, the idea snowballed. It was a lightbulb moment as they realised this was a problem for millions of people globally. A discovery more than a decade ago led to Transferwise’s existence.
How did an Aussie living in Melbourne end up joining Transferwise in the UK?
While I was living in Melbourne I saw an ad for the role in the UK. I took advantage of the great visa arrangements between Australia and the UK, applied and the rest is history.
During my first years with the business I worked on the unit economics model, built with the express purpose of helping us to understand how to price and how to invest in marketing. My role then naturally started to gravitate more to the data. This was key in helping to understand, fix or build new parts of the business.
In a software company, this means working with engineers, without them nothing gets changed or fixed. Understanding problems, coming up with new product ideas, and then implementing them for the benefit of our customers is what led to my role as a product manager. At Transferwise our teams are structured around the Product Manager as the central node. I operated a full stack team tasked with launching Transferwise in new markets and optimising existing markets.
I was lucky enough to launch Transferwise in 10 countries in my role as a product manager, before I returned to Australia as the Country Manager.
What were the challenges you faced launching the Transferwise product in all of these locations?
We’re often the first to do something in a market or country. For example, the first online money transfer, making transfers instant, or introducing electronic verification. These challenges might be technical, regulatory or commercial and when you’re the first company to do it, it can be very resource intensive.
We’ve set the global standard of what a good customer experience looks like in the UK and Europe. We know what we need, what the end product looks like. Singapore is a great example of bringing a global standard to a new market. Four years ago customers in Singapore had to be verified in person, there was no way to verify them online.
We set up a tiny office in the centre of Singapore with one employee just to carry out ID verification to people to use Transferwise. Fast forward to today and we fully integrate with Singapore’s national identity database to make it seamless for Singaporean customers to get onboarded.
We’re really proud we’ve now made it possible for any new business in Singapore, to utilise this new global standard.
The values and philosophy of the business have been echoed in your hiring process. Could you tell us more about how Transferwise have managed to find talent?
We hire people who have shown a true affinity for their customers in previous roles. Talking about the profit you’ve delivered without sharing the customer problems you’ve solved is not really the way to get your foot in the door.
We want people who can identify the opportunities within the business as it grows. For them to discover what they are good at and really focus on fixing problems.
Kristo, our co-founder and CEO cares a lot about the mission. He wants to be able to say Transferwise is setting the new global standard in bringing transparency to international money transfer.
What have you learned on your journey of Product Manager to Country Manager.
The role of a Product Manager role is an integral one to any software business. I’m not a huge fan of the saying a Product Manager is the mini CEO. What’s great about the role is being the lead, being on the front line and at the centre of the battle of ideas. It’s all about making sure you’re building towards the company’s goals. Transferwise has a very clear company mission and a platform for product managers to really shine.
Moving back to Australia and taking up the role of Country Manager was a huge decision. I’ve moved from HQ of a large growing company to the most remote outpost. The Product Manager is much more of an internal role working across teams. My role now requires lots more external facing.
This includes working with banking partners, negotiating and being the point of escalation for improvements. I am now the face to Transferwise in Australia for regulators and at public events. Whilst I didn’t have the most experience in these areas, I felt confident taking the role knowing Transferwise had the resources to support me on the journey.
How have you managed to take the essence of the culture of the business and move it to Australia with you?
We’ve done a great job embedding the Transferwise culture of autonomous teams and putting customers first, here in Australia. I have been lucky enough to enlist some old timers to move from London to Australia to help seed culture.
We are all about empowering employees to do what’s best for our customers. It was a wise decision by Transferwise founders Kristo and Taavet to allow our employees to figure out what’s best for our customers.
We’re doing this across time zones and managing different communication styles. At the same time Transferwise does have full stack support and operational support coming from Singapore which is not too different time wise. This has resulted in us thriving.
How long has Transferwise been operational in Australia?
We launched our “send money” product in Australia in 2015. We now have offices Melbourne and Sydney with risk/compliance, marketing and comms teams here and support coming from Singapore.
Globally we’re processing over 7 billion Australian dollars for customers every month. I think the number we’re most proud of is we’re saving our customers, over $1.5 billion Australian dollars a year or $5 million AUD a day compared to using their bank. Globally, a quarter of our international money transfers are delivered instantly. The transaction happens in less than 20 seconds while the customer is still on the Transferwise app.
You’ve got some really interesting partnerships. Have you got any other exciting partnerships lined up?
We’re about to roll out Transferwise for banks product and we have partnered with Up Bank here in Australia. This allows banks who want to integrate with Transferwise to power international money transfers for their customers. We’re also exploring a lot of partnerships around our business product. Globally, we onboard about 10,000 new businesses every month.
Some of the partnerships we’ve built are, GoCardless, so people can settle the direct debits they’ve received internationally. We have integration feeds with Xero and QuickBooks. Anyone using the accounting software can avoid doing any manual entry. We also have a project with Xero going on in the UK which allows Xero customers to use Transferwise to pay their bills.
What does the future hold for Transferwise?
2020 Has been a big half year for us. We’ve announced an integration with Alipay for customer sending money to China. We launched the UAE’s first fully online money transfer service. Our customers are currently holding £2 billion in Transferwise’s multi currency accounts. We’ve just released a feature allows our customers to send money to each other across borders instantly using just the mobile number.
We’re hoping to continue this same momentum in the second half of the year. Our real push here in Australia is to make money transfer as cheap as possible for customers especially as we actually pay the highest prices for money transfers of any developed country in the world. Australian banks can get away with charging big markups and hidden markups, we want to change that.
Many people don’t realise they’re not getting the rate they see on Google. The result is the majority of people paying far above the odds to send money overseas. We’re working with the ACCC and other regulators to show solutions we use in Europe and how they could be applied in Australia. We know how big a problem it is and Transferwise has the ability to solve it.