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In 2022, SMBs lost £3.6 billion in transaction fees

UK businesses lost an estimated £4.2 billion in transaction fees while sending goods and services abroad

The UK’s SMBs are facing a raft of economic challenges. From rising energy costs, record inflation, staff shortages and supply chain disruption, the headwinds for SMBs are building into a perfect storm. Faced with a darkening outlook in the domestic market, many entrepreneurs and SMBs are shifting their focus overseas to tap into growth by expanding business globally. But even here they face rising costs.

New research from Public First, commissioned by Wise, has found that Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) in the UK lost an estimated £3.6 billion in transaction fees while selling goods and services abroad in 2022. The figure for all businesses was an estimated £4.2 billion. Transaction fees for cross-border transfers and payments are often hidden within the exchange rates quoted by banks, which are often considerably worse than the mid-market exchange rate at the time, allowing them to pocket the difference between the two to boost revenues. This means many SMBs are unaware of the overall transfer fee, which can eat into their operating margins and have a serious impact on cash flow.

UK businesses lost an estimated £4.2 billion in transaction fees while sending goods and services abroad

“We know that banks ‘love’ SMBs. At any one moment, at least one major bank is running a marketing campaign all about its love for the UK’s SMBs. However, there is a disconnect between what banks say and what banks do. As this report shows, SMBs have big ambitions to expand abroad. Global expansion brings new markets and new opportunities, it is a route to growth at a time when the domestic market is challenging. It’s something banks should support.”

True, transparent competition is key to change

Harsh Sinha, Chief Technology Officer, Wise

Where are SMBs planning to expand their business to?

Research by Censuswide commissioned by Wise found that of the quarter (25%) of SMBs who were planning to enter new markets in order to expand their business, a combined 59% are looking to take operations overseas, compared with 39% who were planning to expand their business internally in the UK market. The top destination for international expansion is the EU, with a quarter (25%) of SMBs targeting growth in the bloc, followed by North America (15%) and East Asian countries including China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea (6%).

For many of these businesses, entering a new market will mean overcoming a litany of technological, administrative and trade-related challenges. Integrations such as customs management software and efficient payments infrastructure will be high on the list of priorities. Financial services providers have a key role to play here, and can help support SMBs with their plans for growth, by providing fast, low-cost and transparent international payments which make it clear how much international transfer fees are costing their business.

Where are SMBs planning to expand their business to?

How can policymakers help?

SMBs get a raw deal from lawmakers and regulators. They are misled about how much their international transactions cost, which means they ended up paying £3.6 billion in fees in 2022 alone – something many of them were not banking on. This hidden revenue is generated by banks and other providers offering consumers and businesses a significantly inferior exchange rate to the average exchange rate at the time – the so-called ‘mid market rate’ – and pocketing the difference, all the while advertising their service as ‘no fee’ or ‘0% commission’.

Enhanced transparency rules, like the ones in the Cross- Border Payments Regulation, should have forced financial service providers to tell their SMB customers the true cost of sending money to Europe. While the rules only apply to the subset of SMBs trading with the EU – only payments to euro are covered – it should have been a step forward for SMBs with European business ties.

G20 countries

Business without borders — Meet Wise Business

Over 400,000 active business customers in 2022.

Wise Business is the easy to use business account from Wise. Put simply, it’s business banking* without the high rates, hidden charges, and monthly fees.

In the UK, businesses can use Wise to:

  • Pay employees and vendors across borders
  • Get paid in multiple currencies
  • Earn 1% cashback with business debit cards
  • Manage cash flow by connecting to accounting software
  • Control outgoings by letting employees spend with business expense cards

Our ambition is for Wise Business to be the only account international businesses need for all the jobs they need to do, including getting paid, paying employees and suppliers, as well as managing cash flow, treasury and expenses.

Business without borders — Meet Wise Business

*Wise is not a bank. In the UK Wise Payments Limited is authorised as an Electronic Money Institution (E-Money Institution) by the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

The cost of international business expansion report

This international business expansion report highlights the challenge SMBs are facing in the current economic climate and the ways that large banks are undermining growth by charging hidden fees on cross-border transactions, which are costing SMBs billions every year.

Read the full report