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Forget shrinkflation – sending money overseas is the real troublemaker (just ask me!)


I've promised myself not to swear as I tell the money transfer tale of a simple expat living in Australia, with parents based in Pakistan, and a brother living in London.

As someone who has lived in Pakistan, Malaysia, the UK and now Australia, the issue of international money transfers has been a real pain point. But there's some hope and a big education piece to solve.

All we've ever wanted in life is good food and to easily transfer money...

My parents have relentlessly struggled to send money to my brother. Their bank refuses, time and again, and currency exchange rates from other places make their eyes water.

I've had to send my brother money every so often and have resorted to using my savings in the UK to avoid additional fees of sending cash from Australia.

But surely there's an easier way? That was the thought running through my mind when I met Sudhesh Giriyan, TerraPay president for cross-border payments, at the Money 20/20 Conference in Bangkok a couple of months ago.

And our conversation got me thinking about TransferWise. It's what my partner and I sometimes use to make international transfers.

Unfortunately, it's not available for my parents in Pakistan. Depending on the country you're sending or receiving money to and from, your options for apps such as TransferWise may be limited.

But this isn't just a "me" problem or a Pakistan-specific problem.

You only need to look at Reddit Australia to see the very standard questions people struggle with: How do I transfer money fast, because my bank's taking days?! How do I get a good exchange rate? And how do I avoid a hefty service charge?

The invisible hand

Now, TerraPay isn't consumer-facing. But it's the puppeteer of making money transfers happen for brands such as Wise, Alipay, Western Union and Visa. It makes real-time global payments across 7.5 billion bank accounts, 6 billion cards, and 2.1 billion wallets.

It carries out all the checks and balances including licenses and regulatory approvals for compliance and the avoidance of fraud.

"We also do our own checks to see if it's a genuine or non-genuine transaction and if it isn't, we'll go to our partners to talk about it," Giriyan explained.

And then he said something very interesting.

"More than two-thirds of our business is done via non-digital transactions," Giriyan said. "To put that in perspective, people make $700 billion in person-to-person transactions. The digital percentage is much smaller, as people are more comfortable going to a money exchange or brick-and-mortar to send money."

In all of those transactions, the person on the receiving end will always get money digitally. Never in cash.

It got me thinking about my parents again. Even if TransferWise was available to them, would they trust it? If they did, I'd have to teach them virtually how to use the app...

Digital is the way forward

My parents and their co-hort will need to become more comfortable with digital platforms, though for now, "there's still a lot of room for non-digital payments", Giriyan.

"There is a digital transformation that we're seeing at a very good pace in the last few years... but in spite of all the innovations that have happened, the human element is quite important," he says.

The key to better, smoother experiences in the future may be a willingness to experiment. I know amongst my friends' groups, there's a lot of trial and error and we'll ask each other for advice, because it's the experience part that really matters.

Were the fees low? Did the money get transferred quickly? Were there any issues? Was the tech easy to navigate?

Here's to hoping things get easier as more of us keep moving across the globe. And for now, I'll keep my UK savings where they are, just in case I need to make a quick transfer.

Have you been struggling with international money transfers as well? You can compare your options and get more information on how it all works in Australia through our guide.

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