When the internet erased borders and gave birth to a new definition of “workplace”, the work lives of people and organizations were forever changed. With these changes, a wide assortment of industries emerged to support the growing number of borderless businesses both large and small.
One industry was online banking by companies such as Wise, which launched in 2011 with “the vision of making international money transfers cheap, fair, and simple” and a mission to “tear down a clunky, opaque and expensive system.”
Wise has since grown to over 16 million customers and most recently as part of a rebrand, Wise’s Director of Brand and Creative, Claire Grinton, described the company saying “We’re no longer a fintech but we’re not a bank, we’re uniquely Wise.”
To learn more about that and what’s next for Wise, we recently spoke with Grinton, a writer turned brand strategist, who has worked for agencies including Essence, Mekanism, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Over the course of our conversation, she talks about the Wise rebrand, changing consumer perceptions, using a hyper-local lens for the diverse APAC market, and more.
Following the recent rebrand, you said in an interview “We’re no longer a fintech but we’re not a bank, we’re uniquely Wise.” Tell us more about that.
Wise started about a decade ago in 2011 and we’ve evolved from being a consumer money transfers company to a global network that’s being used by people, businesses, and banks. Today, we’re helping a global community of 16 million customers move over £9 billion in cross-border transactions monthly, saving them £1.5 billion a year.
Wise has always had a strong sense of purpose and mission, one that puts people we serve first. We’re not a bank and we don’t think or act like one. More importantly, our mission has remained the same: to power money without borders, moving it instantly, affordably, conveniently, and transparently.
Over the last decade, we have expanded our product suite to serve more people in more places, which includes the Wise Account, the world’s first truly international account for people to send, spend, receive and hold money in over 40 currencies; Wise Business, the one account for international businesses to go global without high fees; and Wise Platform, our infrastructure service used by over 60 banks, financial institutions and enterprises like Bank Mandiri, Aspire, and Tiger Brokers to offer their customers world-class cross-border services powered by Wise.
“Creativity and innovation have always been in our DNA since the day we started. Back in Wise’s early days, we regularly used creative guerilla marketing tactics to stand out against banks and financial services that our ideal customers had been for many years.”
These features are unparalleled because when you look at any country’s banking products today, they only really work domestically when you’re dealing with one currency, and if you need to transact in another currency, it’s incredibly expensive, difficult, and comes with unexpected surprises in the form of fees. This is where Wise stands out as the one account on the market that’s built to work in multiple currencies.
What were some of the challenges in changing consumer perceptions of what differentiates Wise from traditional “banks”?
One of the biggest challenges is hidden fees awareness. People are often unaware of the hidden charges associated with foreign currency transactions. They think they are getting a better deal than they actually are, and do not realise how much costs they pay for exchange rate mark-ups – which tend to be hidden and non-transparent.
How this works: providers will offer a relatively low or zero upfront transaction fee, but mark up the exchange rate instead, which means customers pay more than they should due to the unfriendly rate whether it’s sending money abroad, making international payments, or changing money from one currency to another. It’s a classic case of misdirection; they get you in with promises of no global exchange fees up-front, but hit you with mark-ups to the exchange rate.
To drive hidden fees awareness, our teams work hard to understand customer behaviour and develop campaigns and content that bring awareness to this problem so people can make informed choices on what’s right for them. We even have a price comparison tool on our website for consumers to see for themselves how much our service costs compared to other players and choose wisely – if a competitor has a better deal, we don’t hide it.
As a global brand that emphasizes its cross-border credentials, how do you approach appealing to such a variety of consumer tastes?
The best way to approach this is to listen to our customers and understand their needs. This is particularly crucial for Asia Pacific, a region that is remarkably diverse in language, culture, and technology adoption. Taking on a hyper-local lens has helped us to communicate, address and develop locally-relevant solutions that make a real impact on our customers’ lives.
At Wise, we have a diverse team of over 5,000 people with 117 nationalities of people spread across our offices all around the world, which helps to bring better products that will solve problems in many countries, and cater to our customers’ needs. Given the global nature of our product, and the need to produce campaigns for multiple markets, languages, and cultures across multiple channels, we have hired local marketing experts to drive the most effective messaging and narratives that will resonate with our audiences no matter where they are in the world.
“We also spent time getting to know Wise’s customers and their needs and made sure that every brand element was put through the lens of emotional representation and functional consistency in over 160 countries.”
When designing our rebrand, we made sure that the team working on the project was representative of Wise’s customers all around the world. We collaborated with Ragged Edge, which helped us tap into an even more diverse range of perspectives and insights to drive everything from strategy to delivery, across every part of the business. We also spent time getting to know Wise’s customers and their needs and made sure that every brand element was put through the lens of emotional representation and functional consistency in over 160 countries.
Because we’re global by nature, ensuring we have a system that works for both left- and right-reading countries was critical. Our in-house localisation team plays an important role in ensuring line breaks happen in appropriate places and that we build logic into our font sizes to avoid awkward breaks in adaptable environments. This same team helped us evaluate our new font, Wise Sans, to ensure appropriate readability for all diacritics at every size. By putting these considerations front and centre, we’re now confident that Wise can show up as Wise to everyone, everywhere.
Today, our new look is inspired by millions of people and businesses worldwide that use Wise today, from currencies, places, languages and alphabets, so customers can recognise some of their worlds in our Wise brand wherever they are. It is designed to make the Wise customer experience consistent regardless of the place or language they sign up in, and it is also designed to scale with us as we continue to expand around the world.
I like the new green color and how it stands out from the norm. In general, from a branding perspective, what are the risks and rewards of forging a different creative path that counters long-held consumer perceptions of an industry?
One of the most rewarding aspects of the rebrand is to celebrate our growth as a company and articulate our ambitions as a company to build one account for all kinds of money. This rebrand is part of this journey we have been on since we changed our name to Wise in 2021. Wise started 12 years ago and it was all about transfers, allowing customers to send money from here to there. Today, customers who send money also want to spend, receive, hold, and grow it as well. Over time, our product has evolved and today we’re much more than transfers. This rebrand provided us the opportunity to communicate “who we are” and “where we are going”.
“We replaced the blue so beloved by financial institutions with a vibrant green, drawing upon the equity built up in our bright green card and stepping out confidently from our peers and competitors.”
Another aspect is brand and product differentiation. We wanted the rebrand to be direct, distinctive and truly global and this is expressed through every part of a new identity. We replaced the blue so beloved by financial institutions with a vibrant green, drawing upon the equity built up in our bright green card and stepping out confidently from our peers and competitors. But more than just a new coat of paint, this is about building a brand that scales with our product and with our ambitions, and ensuring we’re reflecting the full scale of the people and businesses we support around the world.
As for the risk part, I would say it is to minimise the risk of confusion among existing customers who have known us and loved us for many years. Therefore, when we embarked on this project, we had a clear goal in mind: to build a consistent narrative and experience across all customer touchpoints. Indeed, it was no easy feat and required intense coordination and collaboration across multiple teams and channels including paid marketing, PR, CRM, brand systems, product discovery, organic social, and customer service. We also invested time and effort to carefully plan out a communications roll-out strategy with clear messaging and desired outcomes, reinforcing our mission which is still money without borders and highlighting how we achieve this mission has evolved over the past decade.
Your career has followed a variety of interesting paths through the marketing world. What inspired you to join Wise?
My relationship with Wise started the same as many others: as a customer. When moving to the UK from the US in 2016, Wise played a critical role in helping me settle into a new country and stay connected to my home. The mission gave me confidence in the service when I was just a customer, and I was thrilled to find that the same commitment I saw and felt as a customer rang true in the day-to-day workings of the company.
Wise is in an incredible era of growth and maturation, and I was keen to be a part of the evolution from start-up hero to scaled solution for the global community of international people.
What can we expect from Wise marketing in the APAC region in the near future?
We remain laser-focused on our mission: Money Without Borders, making money move instantly, affordably, conveniently, and transparently. This mission continues to guide us in everything we do across our marketing team, from our messaging to our investment strategies.
Creativity and innovation have always been in our DNA since the day we started. Back in Wise’s early days, we regularly used creative guerilla marketing tactics to stand out against banks and financial services that our ideal customers had been for many years. These stunts – whether it was running naked through the streets of London, setting up a giant ticking counter in Martin Place in Sydney or building the world’s most confusing souvenir stand outside European Parliament – was meant to create outrage. If we could expose just how much banks and other providers were making through hidden fees in exchange rate markups and transaction fees, then people would take notice and start thinking of switching away from their banks and other providers.
Today, we have matured ever so slightly from our running naked down the street days, but we haven’t lost that creative, cheeky brand tone and are now applying these principles in our recent campaigns like Take on the World across other channels like TV, Digital and Audio. Stay tuned for more!
What are some campaigns you’ve worked on over the course of your career that you’re most proud of?
One of the most rewarding pieces of work I’ve done is undoubtedly the ‘Take on the World’ campaign that we launched in March this year, a fully in-house production delivered by our brand and creative team. It launched in conjunction with our new brand look and voice and ushered in a new era for Wise, one driven by a single, universal idea – the world’s money for everyone, everywhere.
The campaign, which is running across channels in 19 different languages and in 80 different countries, reflects how we are no longer a money transfers company but a global payments network that caters to their cross-border financial needs, whether you’re an expat, overseas home owner, global nomad, holidaymaker, international student or business owner. It shows our commitment to internationalism and how we’re building the best way to make money do more, for more people and in more places.
We started this journey two years ago when we changed our name from Transferwise to Wise, but today we’re able to celebrate what makes us different in all the ways we show up to the world. The new brand, alongside our growing product, reflects all the ways that people use money, not just transfers. Today, our Wise Account allows customers to hold over 40 currencies in one account and gives them the ability to spend in over 160 countries at the mid-market exchange rate with no sneaky mark-ups or hidden fees.
As part of the campaign, we’ll be launching extended activity in Australia starting next week with new brand assets so do keep a look out for that.
Book everyone in the industry should read: Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan – regardless of your brand’s position in the market, it’s an inspiring book for any marketer that I revisit every few years.
Favorite show you’re watching lately: I got to watch the first five episodes of “The Last of Us” on my recent flight back from Sydney and was entirely hooked by it!
One album you would take to a deserted island: Time Stamp by Annuals
Something you want to learn or wish you were better at: Until my recent pregnancy, I started parkour training – I cannot recommend enough learning to do something entirely outside of your community and your day-to-day responsibilities; it’s so good to be really bad at something and do it anyway.