Most companies claim to be on a mission. At Wise, we’re passionate about our mission to build money without borders. But having a snappy mission statement doesn’t guarantee that our working lives will really make a difference. We need to keep asking ourselves the hardest question - “Why?” Duncan Lamb, one of our Design Leads does just that.
On my short commute from bed to shower to kitchen table, I usually think about the what and the how of our work at Wise - Make it cheaper, Make it faster, Make it more convenient and more transparent. But what about why? Why does any of that matter? With so many challenges facing the world right now, does our mission still matter?
I think it does, because it connects to three fundamental ideas; That money matters. That ‘global’ matters. And that humans matter.
Money matters because it’s everywhere, affecting everyone and everything. But not equally. The money game is rigged, played on an uneven playing field. Most of the knowledge and money and power and control predictably collect in the same place, with the same people, usually old white men.
It’s not a coincidence. The tools and information we’re given to manage our money don’t give us control. Sometimes they even limit it. And I’m not talking about telling me how much I spent on Pret sandwiches last month.
I’m talking about something much much larger. The trillions of dollars, pounds, euros and yen lying idle in low interest current accounts because people don't know how to better invest it, or are too nervous to do so. Banks profit from that ignorance and fear. They invest it for us and then keep almost all of the returns.
Here’s another example. My pension at Wise is invested for me. By default, a portion of my money is invested into Rio Tinto, a mining company infamous for their destruction of indiginous lands. I’m free to change to a different fund, but doing that is complex and painful. I’ve tried and failed twice, wasting hours. And don’t even get me started on the whole “Would you like to pay in Pounds or Euros” scam.
Our typical customers live complex lives. Giving them control of their money, real control, goes way beyond saving features, or spendalytics, and ‘freeze card’ buttons. Arguably, any fintech startup can do that. It’s about empowering them with the same tools, the same knowledge and the same power that bankers and currency traders have. This is not a new goal for us. We started out in 2011 giving everyone the mid market rate, something previously reserved for FX traders. And now we’ve given everyone the choice of how their money is held and invested - and therefore who keeps the profits.
Money, and the kind of control we have over it matters.
On to our second idea, that ‘Global’ matters. My kids are bilingual, my siblings are scattered across 9 time zones, I get to work with Wisers from over 74 nationalities. The world is a better place when people, money and ideas move freely. But, our financial system is constrained by national borders.
I’ll start with a simple example - the familiar feeling of standing in an unfamiliar store in an unfamiliar country wondering how much ‘that thing’ actually costs.
Now let’s go further. My bank account, credit card, pension, health and life insurance, home loans, taxation… all constrained by the borders of Britain. If I move, I have to get the whole lot set up again in the next place. It’s crazy.
The idea of Nation states should be reserved for the Olympics, not the finance system.
We’re starting to scratch the surface, to make a little dent in the borders. Small steps. How can we make global life and business seamless? As simple there, as here, as anywhere? How can we re-think how money works without borders?
Before the Wise Account; International bank accounts didn’t exist for people - unless you had the £100,000 salary needed to open an HSBC Premier Account.
If you wanted to open a bank account in Australia for your small business, you would have needed to fly there, even apply for residency. (or then get ripped off by Paypal). The Wise Account lets you serve Australian customers at the click of a button.
Building Money Without Borders is hard work. That’s why no-one has done it yet.
We won’t get there by building another neobank and sticking some flag icons on it. We’ll get there by re-thinking how money works. Because we’re global, and there’s no going back
Now, to the third idea. The mission matters because humans matter.
Cross border money transfer is slow, hard, and the underlying infrastructure for moving money across border hasn’t improved for decades. Why is that?
Because the finance industry hasn’t needed to fix it. There was no incentive. They have the power, they call the shots. It’s not broken for them. It works just fine.
But it’s not fair for people. For humans. For us.
A phrase I heard a lot as a child was “Treat others as you want to be treated”. Finding that ethos in a company is surprisingly rare - a company that does the decent thing. I think Wise is close. We work hard to create a fair, inclusive experience for everyone - customers and Wisers, putting people before profit, and giving the finger to large institutions who exploit their power.
Being human centred goes beyond being customer centered. It means caring about people whether or not they are using your service. It means telling a visitor to wise.com if there’s a cheaper option available elsewhere.
There are 20k banks in the world today. It’s hard to imagine them recommending cheaper competitors to their customers. Wise stands for a more human style of banking. We currently mandate transparency on the deals we do with Banks. The sales process is slower, but it ends up redefining what customers expect from their banks in terms of honesty and humanity.
Does the mission matter? Yes, it really does. Because Money matters. Because Global matters. And because humans matter.
It sounds grandiose, but every day in hundreds of ways we’re having an impact; Giving our customer control of their finances, making the world a smaller place and building experiences that are human and honest.
Talk by Nilan Peiris and Duncan Lamb:
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