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Wise CEO on what prompted the company’s rebranding

Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita and Zack Guzman speak with Wise Co-Founder & CEO Kristo Käärmann about the company’s recent rebranding, and company outlook.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: From a money transfer service to a leader in cross-border payments. The company previously known as TransferWise has undergone a huge transformation over the last 10 years. Now it's rebranding under a new name, Wise.

Let's bring in the co-founder and CEO of Wise, Kristo Kaarman. And Kristo, I don't expect you to come out and say, yes, you are going public. But there's been a lot of speculation about the rebranding and what this means for your future. What prompted all of this?

KRISTO KAARMANN: What prompted our rebranding was really kind of led by our products and customers. As 10 years ago, we started solving a very simple problem of how do you move money from one country to another without costing you an arm and a leg with your bank and being an unpleasant exercise. Now, 10 years later, we've realized that our customers have asked to be able to receive money internationally, to hold and spend on those clever debit cards.

So we ended up building something that's much broader than purely money transfers. And it was about the time for our name to catch up with what we're already serving the customers.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, Kristo, it's interesting because Citi was out with a report maybe looking at Bitcoin and how that might serve as an international and global currency here. We know that there are obviously solutions in the crypto space. So for a company like yours, maybe focused on that piece of global commerce, talk to me about what crypto means to Wise as a threat or perhaps a benefit here? How do you play that space, and what you're doing on that front?

KRISTO KAARMANN: As a fintech company, so we're now moving about $6 billion of different currency, about 80 currencies across international borders every month, so 6 billion going through the wireless network. And we've, of course, followed the developments on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and tried to figure out if we can make money flows ever faster or cheaper using those technologies. But we haven't.

So there is no use case yet for crypto to be a way to move money cross-border or to make it faster or cheaper. I think we're still waiting for these use cases to be--

AKIKO FUJITA: Kristo, to Zack's point, though, do you see this as a disruption? If you think about the base case or the use case for Wise, whether it is transferring money internationally, cross-border payments, it has been about lower cost and efficiency. If you could do that through a cryptocurrency or, to our earlier conversation, a digital dollar, doesn't that disrupt the case for Wise?

KRISTO KAARMANN: I mean, if there was a way how to do it faster and cheaper, we would be the first ones jumping on it. We calculate that our customers save about a billion dollars a year just by switching from their bank to using our network. And if there are better ways how to move money, we'd love to take advantage of it.

I think what we've seen so far is cryptocurrencies have been a very interesting asset class for investment and perhaps speculation but not so much yet a use case for cross-border movements, at least not where countries would like to have Bitcoin or currencies used for that.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, we're hearing increasingly even from the New York attorney general, her stance pretty firmly against crypto, writ large and what could go on there in terms of some of the fears around crimes and things like that, though I don't know how based those are.

When you look at your businesses though, and what they're seeing on Wise and what they're increasingly turning to you for, what piece of that has maybe seen the largest growth? Because I know you guys are in a few different spots there to help them out. So what are you seeing maybe take off now?

KRISTO KAARMANN: For sure. So especially through the last year as the lockdowns went around the world, we saw that a lot of businesses kind of worked out that it makes no difference anymore if they're selling to a customer on the next street or they're selling to a customer that's in a different country. So we've seen a huge surge in, I guess, businesses going international and realizing that there is an international market for their products.

There's an international market for where they can hire people, so running payrolls internationally. And banking really has to catch up with that. And that's where we're helping them, giving them the Wise account, where they get local account numbers in 10 countries now. So they can invoice as a local business and do payroll in 80 countries. So that has definitely kind of seen a shift, as we've seen in other, I think, payment verticals is that businesses are just getting more international now.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Kristo, what do you think about in terms of the next step for your company? We started the conversation by talking about a lot of speculation around a potential listing within the year. There are so many different ways we have seen companies come to market, especially over the last year, with so many opting for a SPAC. How are you looking at all of the avenues to going public?

KRISTO KAARMANN: You're right. You're right in saying there's so much speculation now in the last, I guess, six to nine months that-- there's speculation about every company on the planet going public or going through a SPAC or something like this.

To be honest, we're staying clear on the speculations. And personally even, I think looking less at the markets now in the last year than I was previously. It's just enormously distracting to follow what's going on.

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, Kristo, we hope to have you back on if you do, in fact, decide to go for that public listing. Kristo Kaarman, Wise co-founder and CEO, joining us from London today.