Wise vs Western Union
Wise Key Features
- Offers low rates
- Well known brand
Western Union Key Features
- Fast transfer time
- Send money all across the world
The main difference between Western Union and Wise is that Wise offers money transfers at the mid-market rate while Western Union charges a margin above the mid-market rate for any given currency pair.
When you’re sending money abroad, using a money transfer service is often the most cost-effective way to send your money abroad, not to mention with far faster transfer times than traditional international bank transfers. However, with so many providers on the market, how do you choose the right one for you? In this head-to-head comparison, we’re taking an in-depth look at two money transfer giants, Wise vs Western Union, to help you decide which service is most suited to your needs.
At a Glance
- About Wise and Western Union
- Which brand has lower fees?
- Which brand offers better exchange rates?
- Which brand covers more locations?
- Which has faster transfer times?
- Which brand offers more transfer & payment options?
- What do users have to say about each brand?
- What brand offers a better ease of use, accessibility & security?
- Additional features you might be interested in
- Case study: sending a variety of amounts from the US to Singapore
About Wise and Western Union
Wise, formerly Transferwise, was founded in 2011 by Kristo Käärmann and Taavet Hinrikus, two Estonian ex-pats who figured out that they could save thousands when sending money internationally, and rolled out their service to help millions of people in the same situation. Wise has since expanded to a customer base of over 10 million users worldwide and more than £4 million monthly transactions.
Western Union was founded in 1850, which makes it one of the longest-running international money transfer providers on the market. In 2018, they completed more than 800 million transactions, and have more than 500,000 agent locations around the world. The company have made efforts to expand and update its business model over the years to keep up with competitors, introducing a free app to allow for more convenient money transfers.
Quick summary: Wise wins
Between Wise vs Western Union, both providers are major players in the international money transfers space, completing millions of transactions between them and covering hundreds of companies. However, our recommendation would be that Wise is almost always going to provide a more affordable option. Western Union have a complex fee structure with high exchange rate markups (sometimes even matching that of banks), whilst Wise has fast transfer times, no exchange rate markup, and a transparent fee structure.
The only aspect in which Western Union really has the edge on Wise is its wide-reaching agent locations, making cash pickups possible in hundreds of countries – something Wise is unable to offer.
Which brand has lower fees?
Wise makes a point of being very transparent about its fees and will give you a breakdown of the fee you can expect to pay immediately upon using their currency tool.
The exact fees you will be charged will vary depending on:
The amount you are sending (the larger your transaction, the higher the fee)
Your payment method
Where you are sending the money from (fees may increase if you are sending money from other countries).
Whether you opt for a fast transfer (higher fees) or a low-cost transfer (potentially longer transfer times).
The company’s fees are made up of a small percentage of the transfer amount, hence higher fees for larger transfers, plus a small fixed fee which can vary depending on whether you opt for a fast or a low-cost transfer, as well as the variables above.
As an example, if you were to send £200 to Spain using Wise as a ‘fast and easy’ transfer, you would expect to pay a fee of £1.55.
Western Union also charges transfer fees that will vary depending on:
The country you are sending to
The size of the transfers
Your transfer payment method
Whether you’re sending money online or with an agent
To give you an indication, organising a cash pickup will be more expensive than doing a direct-to-bank transfer while paying for your transfer with a debit or credit card will be most expensive (but quicker) than a bank transfer. Western Union also has a tool on their website that will show you the fees you should expect to pay for your specific transfer.
As an example, if you were to send £200 to Spain via bank account and pay for the transfer on your debit card, you would be charged a fee of £1.90.
Between Wise vs Western Union, the exact fees you can expect to pay will vary depending on a number of factors, it’s difficult to label one provider or the other as the most affordable overall – however, from the examples we’ve run through, Wise does have slightly lower fees. Taking into account the fact that Western Union add a margin onto the exchange rate (discussed below), Wise is almost certainly the more affordable option.
Which brand offers better exchange rates?
Wise really stands out as a money transfer provider because they offer money transfers at the mid-market rate – that is, the same exchange rate you would see on Google on any given day.
The provider adds no markup on the exchange rate when transferring your money, so you would be hard pushed to find a better rate.
Western Union charges a margin above the mid-market rate for any given currency pair, although the exact rates charged is, again, dependent on several factors:
The type of transfer (online transfer tend to have higher rates than agent transfers)
Payout method (cash pickups will have a lower interest rate compared to, say, bank transfers)
The amount transferred (larger sums will have higher rates than smaller transfers)
The destination you are sending to
When it comes to comparing money transfer providers purely based on exchange rates, it’s hard to beat Wise. The company’s commitment to providing international transfers at the mid-market rate is something you won’t often see elsewhere, and Western Union’s markup can’t compete.
Which brand covers more locations?
Wise supports transfers to 59 countries, including the vast majority of Europe, the United States, India, Brazil, Australia, and Canada. The provider also invites users to vote to any currencies or countries that currently aren’t supported
Western Union supports over 200 countries for international money transfers in over 130 currencies. The company boasts hundreds of thousands of agent locations worldwide, so is a popular choice for less frequently travelled currency corridors.
Unsurprisingly, Western Union’s position as one of the longest-running money transfer providers puts it in good stead in terms of disbursing network, with thousands of agent locations in over 200 countries worldwide.
Which has faster transfer times?
Wise states that its transfers will typically take no longer than 2 business days to be processed and that even 2 business days is rare.
It also provides the option to choose between either ‘fast and easy’ transfers and ‘low-cost’ transfers, so that users can choose whether time or cost is their main priority.
Western Union can offer transfers that are processed within minutes, or within a couple of days, depending on the structure of your transfer.
For example, if you arrange a cash pickup or a mobile wallet transfer with Western Union, your transfer will typically arrive in minutes. Option for a bank deposit as your payout method, however, can take closer to two days.
Equally, your payment method can affect your transfer time. Paying on a debit or credit card will typically be faster than a bank transfer, for example. Finally, your destination can impact your transfer time.
Between Western Union vs Wise, both of these providers can offer transfers that take minutes, or days, depending on the type of transfer you are sending. That’s why it’s always best to compare a couple of providers for your specific money transfer requirements to get a better insight into exactly how long your transfer is likely to take.
Which brand offers more transfer & payment options?
Wise accepts credit or debit cards, online bank transfers, Apple and Google Pay, POLi, and direct bank debits (ACH) as payment methods, with bank transfers being the most commonly used form of payout to recipients.
It should be noted that the company does not accept cash or cheque payments for any currency, and does not provide cash pickups.
Western Union accepts payment via credit or debit cards, instant bank transfers, bank transfer via the FPS, and cash payments at an agent location.
It provides three main types of transfers:
Mobile wallet deposits
If getting your money to your recipient in cash is a priority, Western Union offers this service as well as the option to deposit money into mobile wallets. Wise, on the other hand, has a bigger focus on digital transactions and does not offer cash payouts as an option.
What do users have to say about each brand?
Wise has over 95,000 reviews on Trustpilot and a total ‘Excellent’ rating of 4.6 out of 5.
Users are most commonly positive about:
The platform’s ease of use
In terms of negative reviews, some users dislike the digital focus which limits the ability to talk with a customer service agent directly. Likewise, another negative point is that the company’s competitive fees only go up to a certain point: for large transactions, other providers tend to offer more competitive rates.
Western Union has over 17,000 reviews on Trustpilot and an overall ‘Average’ score of 3.3 out of 5.
Positive reviews discuss these points in particular:
Good customer service
An easy, seamless transaction
The usefulness of having physical agent locations
Amongst the negative reviews, however, customers reported issues with their money being received by the recipient, slow transfer times, and expensive exchange rates. Elsewhere online, the provider is generally well-regarded as a reputable money transfer service but in many areas, unable to keep out with the competitive rates and smooth digital experience many of the newer money transfer providers (Wise included) can offer.
Comparing Wise vs Western Union, Wise has over 8 million users and tens of thousands of positive reviews to back up its excellent rates, convenient service, and fast transfer times. While Western Union has been around a long time and has many loyal customers, it doesn’t fare well in terms of reviews in comparison.
What brand offers a better ease of use, accessibility & security?
Wise supports 12 languages on its website, including English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Italian, Hungarian, French, and Turkish.
For customer support, the platform does provide assistance via live chat, email, and phone, although some users find these options difficult to access on the platform. The app is extremely user-friendly and easy to use for making transfers on the go.
In terms of security, Wise has a 2-factor authentication system that sends the user a code to verify a transaction before proceeding. The provider won’t always require additional documents from you to verify your account, but in the cases where they do (for example, if you are sending large sums), you may be asked for a photo ID, proof of address, or a photo of you holding your ID.
The Western Union website supports hundreds of different languages for people sending money all around the world. In terms of customer support, many customers like having a physical agent location to visit for support with transfers, although the website does also have the option to email or call customer services.
The provider does have an app to allow you to initiate transfers 24/7, and that’s available on both iOS and Android, and receives overwhelmingly positive reviews for its ease of use and user-friendly functionality.
The company will take you through several steps to verify your identity when you first register on the site. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get your account set up and verified before you need to make your transfer to avoid delays. As part of it’s security measures, Western Union has implemented Software Composition Analysis (SCA). This is a customer authentication security layer applied to both payment booking and account access and manipulation. It is part of the two-factor authentication (2FA) security protocol.
Between Western Union vs Wise, both are trusted, well-respected money transfer providers with multiple security measures in place to keep your money safe.
Additional features you might be interested in
As well as international money transfers, Wise has expanded to offer a multi-currency account to their users.
The account enables users to be paid in over 50 currencies, avoiding unfair exchange rates and fees from local banks, and also comes with its own debit Mastercard which has fee-free ATM withdrawals up to £200.
The main feature that makes the provider an appealing choice for many customers is their thousands of agent locations enabling easy cash pickups when sending your money abroad.
If you want your recipient to receive your transfer in cash, Western Union is a good option.
Case study: sending a variety of amounts from the US to Singapore
If you were sending $200 to Singapore, you would expect to pay a fee between $0.62 – $7.49, depending on your chosen payment method (bank transfer being the cheapest, and credit card incurring the highest fee), at the mid-market exchange rate. This transfer would take an estimated 30 minutes.
Sending larger sums incurs higher fees – between $3.09 and $37.44 depending on your payment method, although again, your transfer would be processed at the mid-market rate. Wise estimates this would take around an hour to be processed.
In this scenario, you would be looking at sending this transfer at the mid-market rate with a fee of $94.11 (0.47% of your transfer amount, plus the fee for Wire transfer, which is the only option with a sum this large). This would have a transfer time of about a day, according to Wise.
Sending this amount via Western Union would incur a fee between $0 (for bank-to-bank transfers) to $9.99 when paying with a credit card, plus an average exchange rate markup of up to 6% – the exact markup is not clear. This transfer could be processed with 0 – 7 business days.
This sum would incur a fee between $0 and $29.99, again, depending on what payment method you opt for. It’s important to note that the more expensive option – credit card – and debit card has a transfer time of up to 3 business days, while bank transfer has no fee but could take up to 7 working days. This transfer would still be made at the company’s exchange rate markup.
Sending this sum is only available on Western Union as a bank transfer, which has no fees (but still an exchange rate above the mid-market rate). The transfer would take between 0 – 7 days.
For these Western Union vs Wise case studies, we can see that the costs associated with each amount are lower when sending with Wise (although when sending as large a sum as $20,000 you may actually find a better rate with Western Union), and possible to complete within minutes compared to several working days.
However, the cash pickup option Western Union provides for smaller sums may be a big appeal for some, so this is worth keeping in mind.
Overall, our top pick out of these two is Wise – but if sending your money to your recipient in cash is a must for you, this isn’t an option with Wise.
Both of these providers are well-known and well-respected names in the money transfer space for good reason. They offer a secure service and provide a more cost-effective way to send money abroad than most traditional banks.
However, when we compare the two, they’re differences are clear. Western Union is most appealing for it’s thousands of agent locations across the world, making cash pickups easy and accessible for millions of people. However, its rates are not competitive when compared to Wise, who offer a faster service, more user-friendly platform, and at a fraction of this price.