European financial technology company TransferWise is planning a Canadian launch next year for its borderless debit card, which allows users to hold balances in multiple currencies and spend it at home and abroad with lower foreign exchange fees than traditional banks.
TransferWise CEO and co-founder Kristo Kaarmann says the card, which was launched in the U.K. and the Eurozone two weeks ago, is useful for frequent business travellers, snowbirds and expats who spend lots of time outside of Canada but domestically as well.
"When people go out of the country, they are inevitably spending money," Kaarmann said in an interview. "They're booking hotels, they're booking flights, often in other currencies, and that's where banks scoop the hidden fees."
Kaarmann said there would be no transaction fees for people making purchases on the borderless debit card in the currency a balance is held in. If money held in the borderless account must be converted into another currency before using the card, a conversion fee of between 0.6 per cent and one per cent applies, which Kaarmann notes is less than the banks charge.
The U.K.-based fintech launched its borderless account in Canada in August last year, and Kaarmann said it is working to offer the accompanying debit card here in 2019.
There is no limit on the balance that can be held in the borderless account, he says. Customers' money is held in segregated accounts at banks insured by the Canada Deposit Insurance Corp., according to a TransferWise spokeswoman.
Kaarmann spoke about its borderless card as it launches its batch payments function in Canada, which allows businesses to make up to 1,000 global payments at once in various currencies with a lower foreign-currency conversion charge of between 0.6 per cent and one per cent.
TransferWise has been beefing up the functionality offered to Canadians since its launch in April 2016. Since then, roughly $2.2 billion has been moved in and out of the country via TransferWise's platform. Canada is among its top 10 largest markets and is now the sixth-fastest growing market in terms of transfers.
Canada's big banks are investing heavily in technology as customers increasingly do their banking in the digital realm. They are also facing increased competition from non-traditional providers of payment services. For example, Apple and Google have introduced mobile wallets that allow users to make retail payments.
Meanwhile, last month, TransferWise became the first non-bank payment services provider to hold a settlement account in the Bank of England's Real Time Gross Settlement system, meaning it can now settle payments directly rather than going through a retail bank.
As Canada moves to modernize its payment system, TransferWise is pushing for a similar direct settlement account in Canada as well as policies regarding the disclosure of fees, including exchange rates.