Founder letter: a note from Kristo

Kristo Käärmann
17.06.21
11 minute read

Where we started

Ten years ago Taavet and I started Wise. We were both sick of losing money to our banks.

I was sending money home to Estonia every month with my bank and losing thousands to hidden exchange rate markups. I didn’t like this then and I still don’t today.

We came up with what we thought was a pretty clever solution. Every month, we looked up the actual exchange rate and then Taavet put his Estonian kroon into my bank account in Estonia and I topped up Taavet’s UK account with pounds. No fees, no bad exchange rates - it felt like we had outsmarted a system that was built to fleece us. It felt good.

We thought we might be able to help others save some money who’d been overcharged and underserved by banks. We built a simple website, crowdsourced a name from our friends, and Wise was born.

Where we are today

In the decade since, we’ve grown from a simple money transfer service into an international account that helps a community of over 10 million like-minded people and businesses manage and move their money across the world.

Wise now moves over £5 billion across borders every month, saving customers more than £1 billion in fees a year.

Our Wise Account and debit card is replacing traditional international banking for millions of people and businesses. We’ve issued more than 1.6 million debit cards and customers held £3.7 billion in deposits as at 31 March 2021 across 56 different currencies in Wise accounts, and many use their Wise account numbers to get paid like a local in 30 countries.

Businesses now use us to manage their cash flow, pay suppliers, and get paid all over the world. And by building this infrastructure for consumers and businesses, we’ve created a service over API that more than a dozen banks and enterprises use today.

Over the years we expanded to new countries, launched new features, and are still fighting as hard as ever against hidden fees. Throughout this, one thing has remained constant - our mission.

The Wise Mission

We are creating money without borders: instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free.
Money should move across borders instantly. Moving money across borders should be convenient. The fees should be transparent and not be hidden in exchange rates.

Eventually, we want to make money move across borders for free. We’re powering money for people and businesses: to pay, get paid, to spend, in any currency, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

In 2011, this had never been attempted. In 2021, it is still a huge leap from where we are. There remains a great deal of work to do. Moving money into another currency is still a maze of hidden exchange rate markups, high fees, delays, and small print for most people. Sending, spending, receiving, and holding money internationally doesn’t work like it should, because the international banking system was built for the past.

We’re still in the early stages of making our mission a reality, but we know what we need to do and we have a team of over 2,400 dedicated people working to make it happen.

Making our mission a reality

Today, moving money using Wise saves customers money, time, and hassle. It still mostly moves between bank accounts in different countries. Increasingly, people and businesses use Wise to replace international bank accounts and hold their money, move money between their Wise Account balances, and spend it with their Wise debit cards. Others are switching to banks, where cross-border transactions powered by Wise are built directly into their bank’s apps.

As the world gets more connected, the need for moving money globally is only accelerating. We are making money work for that connected future.

How are we going to do this? At its core, our plan revolves around:

  • Building solutions to help personal customers manage their money internationally through the Wise Account
  • Making our Wise Business account work for businesses of all sizes so they can manage their international finances
  • Continuing to improve our infrastructure so that it can move money for anyone, anywhere and helping Wise Platform partners integrate Wise into their banks or apps

If we do these things right, we will make progress on our mission and save people and businesses much, much more than the £1 billion they currently save every year using Wise.

What you should expect if you join us

I like to tell our team that they haven’t signed up to work at a company - but on a mission. Our shareholders should have the same mindset. Whether you own a small or large piece of Wise, you are not just buying a part of the company, but you’re supporting our progress on creating money without borders.

The process of becoming a public company is a milestone on our journey, but is not a defining feature in and of itself. The work that remains is making Wise cheaper, faster, and easier to use - all around the world.

We’ve built Wise in a sustainable way to be financially independent - and will continue to do so. Our customers pay us enough fees - revenue - that lets us top up our balance sheet with profits for a rainy day. We are working on a difficult, structural problem that will take a long time to solve.

For generations, banks have been defined by borders. Traditional bank accounts trap our money in one country, making international lives more difficult and expensive than they need to be. We are building a better way, but it won’t happen overnight. Our mission has a long term horizon for success.

It can take years to increase the speed of payments and drop fees by integrating into a nation’s payment system. At the same time, we can create new features incredibly fast due to how our team and company is set up. Sometimes our progress may seem fast, but it requires patient, dedicated focus to make a lasting improvement in the fundamentals, such as the cost and speed.

Shareholders should understand that we prioritise our team’s efforts - and judge success - on the basis of mission progress. Revenue and returns are a function of our focus on our mission.

We are not a company that prioritises short term solutions. If you’re joining us as a shareholder, you should understand the long term nature of our mission and our focus on it. This is how we grew to help 10 million customers today and how we aim to help 100 million customers in the future.

Staying true to our values

Becoming a publicly traded company is something that we’ve considered for a long time. We are approaching this evolution in our own way that reflects our mission and values.

This moment in time is marked by three key characteristics.

  1. We are taking steps to align ownership and mission by bringing customers into our shareholder base. Doing this ensures we are solving their problems the best we can.
  2. We are taking steps to become public in a way that is transparent and fair. By doing a Direct Listing, we are ensuring everyone gets the same opportunity to own a part of Wise as large institutions. We’re allowing our existing shareholders to sell on their own terms and allowing the open market to set a price in a transparent way that’s fair for all.
  3. Keeping our long term focus. We are putting in place a voting structure that ensures our team can focus on our mission over the long term.

Join us

At the time of becoming a public company, it’s easy to get distracted by evaluating revenue and profits and debating a share price. But for us, this moment is about our customers finally being able to become owners of Wise.

Money is an important part of our lives. But thinking about how to get it from one place to another should never be an expensive or inconvenient worry. Many of our 10 million customers live away from home. The people who use Wise to move money around the world every day are individuals supporting their families, parents paying school fees, and business owners funding their entrepreneurial dreams.

When we talk about removing borders from money, what we’re actually talking about is saving them money and making their lives easier. It’s what we started doing 10 years ago and it’s what we’re going to be doing for a long time.

If you believe in that, we’re excited to have you join us on this mission. Onwards.


Important Legal Information

The contents of this letter, which have been prepared by and are the sole responsibility of TransferWise Ltd (“Wise” or the “Company”), have been approved by Goldman Sachs International and Morgan Stanley & Co. International plc solely for the purposes of Section 21(2)(b) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, as amended.

The information contained in this letter is for background purposes only and does not purport to be full or complete, nor does this letter constitute or form part of any invitation or inducement to engage in investment activity. No reliance may be placed by any person for any purpose on the information contained in this letter or its accuracy, fairness or completeness. The contents of this letter are not to be construed as legal, financial or tax advice.

Each of Goldman Sachs International, Morgan Stanley & Co. International plc, Barclays Bank PLC and Citigroup Global Markets Limited (together, the “Banks”) is acting exclusively for Wise and no one else in connection with the possible direct listing (the “Direct Listing”), and will not regard any other person (whether or not a recipient of this document) as their respective clients in relation to the possible Direct Listing and will not be responsible to anyone other than the Wise for providing the protections afforded to their respective clients, nor for providing advice in relation to the possible Direct Listing, the contents of this letter or any transaction, matter, or arrangement referred to in this letter. Each of the Banks is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the United Kingdom by the PRA and the FCA.

This letter is not for release, publication or distribution, directly or indirectly, in or into the United States (including its territories and possessions, any State of the United States and the District of Columbia), Australia, Canada, South Africa or Japan or in any other jurisdiction where, or to any person to whom, to do so would constitute a violation of applicable law or regulation. The securities mentioned herein have not been, and will not be, registered under the United States Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”).

The securities referred to in this letter may not be offered or sold in the United States except pursuant to an exemption from, or in a transaction not subject to, the registration requirements of the Securities Act. There will be no public offer of securities in the United States. This letter does not constitute or form part of any offer or invitation to sell or issue, or any solicitation of any offer to purchase or subscribe for, any securities, nor shall it (or any part of it), or the fact of its distribution, form the basis of, or be relied on in connection with, any contract therefor. Accordingly, unless an exemption under any applicable law is available, the securities may not be offered or sold directly or indirectly, in the United States, Canada, Australia or Japan or any other country where such distribution may otherwise lead to a breach of any law or regulatory requirement.

This letter may include forward-looking statements, which are based on current expectations and projections about future events. These statements may include, without limitation, any statements preceded by, followed by or including words such as “target”, “believe”, “expect”, “aim”, “intend”, “may”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “plan”, “project”, “will”, “can have”, “likely”, “should”, “would”, “could” and any other words and terms of similar meaning or the negative thereof. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions about Wise and its subsidiaries. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, the events in the forward-looking statements may not occur. Past performance cannot be relied upon as a guide to future performance and should not be taken as a representation that trends or activities underlying past performance will continue in the future. No representation or warranty is made or will be made that any forward-looking
statement will come to pass. The forward-looking statements in this letter speak only as at the date of this letter.

Each of Wise, the Banks, and their respective affiliates as defined under Rule 501(b) of Regulation D of the US Securities Act (“affiliates”), expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to update, review or revise any forward-looking statements contained in this letter and disclaims any obligation to update its view of any risks or uncertainties described herein or to publicly announce the results of any revisions to the forward-looking statements made in this letter, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise, except as required by law.

The information in this letter is subject to change. Persons viewing this letter should ensure that they fully understand and accept the risks which will be set out in the prospectus, if published. Persons considering making investments should consult an authorised person specialising in advising on such investments. None of the Banks nor any of their respective affiliates and/or any of their or their affiliates' directors, officers, employees, advisers and/or agents or any other person accepts any responsibility or liability whatsoever for the contents of, or makes any representation or warranty, express or implied, as to, the truth, accuracy or completeness of the information in this letter (or whether any information has been omitted from the letter) and/or any other information relating to Wise and/or its subsidiaries and associated companies, whether
written, oral or in a visual or electronic form, and howsoever transmitted or made available, or for any loss howsoever arising from any use of the letter or its contents or otherwise arising in connection therewith. Accordingly, each of the Banks and their respective affiliates, their or their affiliates’ respective directors, officers or employees, and any other person acting on their behalf expressly disclaims, to the fullest extent possible, any and all liability whatsoever for any loss howsoever arising from, or in reliance upon, the whole or any part of the contents of this letter, whether in tort, contract or otherwise which they might otherwise have in respect of this letter or its contents or otherwise arising in connection therewith.

Unless otherwise indicated, market, industry and competitive position data are estimates (and accordingly, approximate) and should be treated with caution. Such information has not been audited or independently verified, nor has the Group ascertained the underlying economic assumptions relied upon therein. Certain data in this letter, including financial, statistical, and operating information has been rounded. As a result of the rounding, the totals of data presented in this letter may vary slightly from the actual arithmetic totals of
such data. Percentages in tables may have been rounded and accordingly may not add up to 100%.

For the avoidance of doubt, the contents of Wise’s website are not incorporated by reference into, and do not form part of, this letter.

Wise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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