The story begins thus: Mr. Taavet Hinrikus, then Skype’s Director of Strategy, transferred to London, but his pay came in euros and was deposited in his Estonian bank. So for a while, he found himself losing about 5% of his earnings as he transferred his euros from Estonia to his pound-denominated account in London.
In another corner of London, a compatriot was grappling with a similar problem, only that Mr. Kristo Kaarmann was losing money converting his pounds to euros in order to keep up with a mortgage back east.
Seeing as to how their problems offered mutually beneficial solutions, the two Estonians, who had become acquainted in London, worked out a proposal that saw Hinrikus sort out Kaarmann’s mortgage issues in Estonia while he gave him an equivalent amount in British pounds, as determined by Reuters' mid-day market rate.
That is how TransferWise was born in 2011.
So how has it managed to stand out in a forest of global remittances, where the Establishment has a history running over a century?
It all boils down to the marketing strategy employed by TransferWise, whose message resonates with our time.
Since the 2008 global meltdown, the world in general is still seething at the banks, seeing them as something akin to a staging post for a faceless horde lurking in the shadows, waiting to filch and pillage as is appropriate (think austerity and privatizations).
Into this precarious situation rode in TransferWise, calling out the banks and other remittance establishments for exploiting their clients by luring them in with promises of 0% zero charges then imposing, unbeknown to the client, huge foreign exchange margins. TransferWise would offer an exchange known to the remitter beforehand. No shady dealing.
These “hidden charges”, have been the critical driver of TransferWise’s marketing; they disparage established institutions while encouraging people to get on board TransferWise. It seems to be working, because as of last year, TransferWise had grabbed 2% of the UK market.
A simple explanation of the P2P system that TransferWise uses
There’s a name for the content strategy employed by TransferWise over the years: hero-hub-hygiene.
This is a marketing move that is meant to keep the conversation burning on a particular matter, to which a firm can latch on and increase its visibility.
In our highly visual world, that means creating videos and pictures that will capture the essence of the campaign in a memorable manner, and posting them regularly to keep up the conversation.
And TransferWise is very serious about its ‘purge-the-hidden-fees’ campaign, it being its raison d’etre, as one will deduce from its founders’ experiences.
And to keep its campaign alive, it has resorted to fairly unconventional strategies, such as getting a hundred ‘revolutionaries’ to strip down in London, because as they would put it in Twitterverse, they have #Nothing2Hide. The ‘revolutionary’ tag is very appealing, especially considering that you can also get a t-shirt for leaving the banks (remittance-wise, I presume). In a world where people are growing evermore despondent, being made to feel like you’ve joined the ranks of Che to fight the system is a mighty nice feeling.
The Hidden Fees campaign sticks because it’s being driven by big data; does your office have a viral team?
TransferWise’s organization upends the traditional architecture (probably to be expected in an office with a sauna!), preferring to split workers into fairly autonomous teams, and team viral’s work is to get people using the platform, and they strongly use a referral network to get more people in.
This is data you can tabulate and also map users, identify super inviters to tap, and identify deficiencies. This data is used for instance to also customize reward systems for its referral program, which will for instance offer £50 to you for every three people referred, while in another country (it operates globally) it would offer an equal split between you and a friend.
This is a visualization of TransferWise clients across three countries, denoted by the different colors. More than make fancy dots, the data upon which this image is based on is used for many other purposes
That data most likely also drives its Facebook campaign, which also has the Hidden Fees narrative: ‘Banks charge huge hidden fees when you send money; TransferWise is the clever way to avoid them completely.’ They are spending $100,000 month on Facebook, but it is totally worth it, in their words.
And when you have the backing of the likes of Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson and Paypal’s Peter Thiel, you clearly must be on to something great in that disruptive field called financial technology, or fintech.
But where TransferWise is busy disparaging banks that it actually needs and occasionally uses, Transfast, an American-based remittance company actually seeks alliances with banks, so its content strategy is markedly different.
After all, Transfast bills itself as a “leading omni-channel provider of multi-currency cross border payment solutions to consumers around the world.” Which is why it proudly mentions its strong bank network across 23 African nations.
The Transfast Strategy differs a bit; their visibility seems to be hinged on participating more in local events, to increase a rapport with that community
However, like TransferWise, the forex rate is a tool to increase Transfast’s appeal; they do have a margin on the rate, but as I had previously illustrated, it was significantly lower, to the point of beating TransferWise to its claim of offering the cheaper rates. Transfast calls its exchange rate the High Locked-In Online Exchange Rates; it is prominently emboldened in this manner.
To see how Transfast marketing differs, one needs only follow their Global Marketing Director, Mr. Jay Vix, as he zips across the Atlantic.
It emerges that the marketing strategy applied by Mr. Vix are tailored for a specific country, on which the Transfast team will focus until it is sure it has established itself in said country.
The big picture view is that Transfast wants to better integrate itself into the African market (where TransferWise is only active in 3 nations), as one can deduce from its social media campaigns.
This is CEO Samish Kumar on the matter- “A technology-based, direct-to-bank, cross-border money transfer service like ours will contribute to the growth of African economies by helping drive financial inclusion, and over time promote savings and use of bank products. Further, the impact of remittances to Africa overall is significant as they are the most reliable source of inbound capital… Now’s the perfect time for Transfast to be expanding its omnichannel funds transfer service… as more people in Africa are becoming banked and mobile-enabled.”
The first country Transfast has set its eyes on is Nigeria, and they are wooing Nigerians across both sides of the Atlantic with all manner of goods. In the US, they hosted a party celebrating Nigeria’s 55th Independence, went to celebrate Nigerian culture in Houston; in Nigeria, they have collaborated with prominent Nigerian actor-turned-politician Desmond Elliot to alleviate the suffering of orphans and destitute children, in addition to participating in remittance expos, thus building their brand.