How long should it take? The TransferWise perspective on payment speed

TransferWise
16.10.18
3 minute read

We know that the speed at which we move money around the world is important to TransferWise customers. In many cases, it’s the main reason they choose us in the first place. So how do we think about shaking up the status quo of the speed of international money transfers?

First and foremost, it should be fast

The last time I moved money with my bank, I was told it would take 3 to 5 working days. This was a head scratcher - what could make it so slow?

It turns out that in many cases, banks are simply inefficient. Most international money transfers pass through multiple intermediary banks (normally via the SWIFT network) which is not just expensive, but slow.

On the other hand, in the digital age, the single true limitation on the speed of moving money around the world is the speed with which we can move information around the world. In fact, at TransferWise, we see no reason why an international transfer shouldn’t be as quick and easy as sending an email.

So, about a year ago, we started working on completing transfers instantly (we define an instant transfer as receiving money from senders, processing it, and delivering money to recipient accounts all within 20 seconds). Predictably, the final step - finding banking systems to deliver money to recipient accounts instantly - has been the biggest obstacle. In some countries, we’ve found solutions, for example becoming the first non-bank to connect to the Bank of England’s Faster Payment Scheme and one of the first to use the SEPA instant payment scheme in Europe. In other countries, we remain constrained by the speed of local payment systems - these are problems which we are yet to solve.

And increasingly, our customers are reaping the benefits of this. In September 2018, more than 260 000 TransferWise transfers were instant - a number which is growing month on month.

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Predictable every time

The other problem with a delivery time of 3 to 5 business days is its unpredictability. Which one is it - 3 business days, or 5? In fact, it is probably neither and may well take significantly longer.

Sending money around the globe can be stressful - and so, when transfers can’t be instant, TransferWise users deserve to know exactly when their money will arrive.

We therefore set an ambitious goal: predicting delivery of our customers’ money to within 2 hours of its actual delivery. Creating a model to predict this was a huge task - something that no one (as far as we’re aware) has attempted before. Across nearly 1000 routes, 125 connected payment systems, 15 different ways to fund a transfer, 1000 annually accounted-for bank holidays, and a myriad of other factors, we’re computing amongst billions of unique speed combinations each time we calculate an estimate for a customer. And we do this a few million times a day.

Last month, we succeeded in estimating the speed of nearly 80% of our monthly transfers accurately to within 2 hours.

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What’s next

But, we’re not finished yet - our speed mission is by no means complete. Whether it’s by pushing accuracy from 80% to 100%, connecting to new instant payment systems, or lobbying central banks for faster payment systems, the mission continues.

And certainly, we’ll keep pushing until all our customers get this experience:

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Onwards!

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

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