Our rating(4.2/5)
Cross-border banking is expensive, and Airwallex is committed to changing that. In a heavily regulated world, that is a tall order.
Airwallex
  • Company:
    Airwallex

  • Type:
    Online/e-money account

  • Available in:
    UK, EU, Australia, Hong Kong, China

  • Monthly fee:
    None

  • Cards:
    Multi-Currency Visas (virtual)

  • Transfer currencies:
    23+ currencies

  • Local bank accounts:
    Available in the UK, US, Germany, Estonia, Hong Kong, Australia

Pros: Local accounts in multiple countries. No monthly fees. Good rates for international transfers. Personal onboarding and customer service.

Cons: Limited app. Not all aspects of the service are ready and available yet.

Small businesses with international operations have long been at the mercy of big banks and their whimsical fees. Especially so in countries using their own currency that needs to be exchanged back and forth for international trade.

Every incoming and outgoing wire costs money, and poor currency exchange rates add insult to injury.

From such misery, Airwallex was born. Founded in Melbourne in 2015 by young entrepreneurs who got tired of high bank costs, it is not the first nor the last company that aims to change payments and make money borderless: there are Wise, Revolut, PayPal Business and others.

business account comparison

Who can open an account?

Airwallex offers an attractive selection of local bank accounts in multiple countries and currencies. International transfers have low costs. But even with a half billion in funding, it’s not all smooth sailing for this fintech unicorn.

Whereas most similar companies make it clear which countries they welcome customers from, Airwallex does not seem to be bothered with country borders.

Embracing the world, they lose some focus and clarity. The initial registration dropdown runs from Andorra to Zambia, and it’s only later you find out they have much stricter limits for countries they accept.

Airwallex countries

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • China
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Gibraltar
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong (China)
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Currently, Airwallex is available for businesses registered in the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, China, the US and the European Union. The EU licence was received when we wrote this review in June 2021. Account opening is not guaranteed – see more in the “It seems to be a privilege, not a right” section.

Fees: affordable currency exchange at the core

Airwallex pricing is really straightforward: there is no monthly fee, registration cost or commitment. You only pay a small margin on top of the exchange rate when you transfer money.

A main motivation for businesses to register with Airwallex is to benefit from favourable currency exchange rates.

Airwallex FX conversion

The real margin is only confirmed after sending a transfer.

Airwallex says their fee is typically 0.5% – 1.0% above the interbank FX rates. Our experience so far is that the rate is even better. US dollar conversion rates seem to be around 0.3%.

The exact rate is only known after the fact, though. The live rate solution means that an indicative rate will be displayed to the client based on market data. Once the conversion is confirmed by the client, the actual rate will be displayed on the screen immediately after execution.

Apart from currency exchanges, there’s a payout fee of 0.1% for Chinese Yuan (CNY) and transfer fee for using SWIFT.

But with local Airwallex accounts in the countries you deal with, most businesses actually avoid SWIFT altogether by transferring money between the local accounts (so only the currency fee applies), then send a payment from the local account to your recipient within that local payment network.

Local accounts in major currencies

On the Airwallex website, it takes just seconds to click the “Create Global Account” button and choose whether you want a free account denominated in USD, EUR, GBP or AUD. The currency selection varies a bit depending on which Airwallex office you sign up with. For example, a company signing up with the Hong Kong branch can see JPY, but would need to set up AUD separately as it is governed by a different legal entity.

Most accounts are set up instantly and held with banks that are actually located in countries using those currencies. For example, we were able to set up both a EUR account in Hamburg (Germany) and a USD checking account in New York – all in a New York minute. These accounts can essentially receive payments with zero fees.

The ultimate destination for your account-creating frenzy seems to be Hong Kong, where it’s possible to open accounts in no less than eleven currencies, including the ones mentioned above but also others such as SGD, CNY and NZD. Unsurprisingly, the currency selection provided by local banking partner DBS Bank is rather Asia-centric.

If your customers in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) – where some countries have their own non-euro currency – wish to send you money, they need to be sending EUR according to Airwallex. We have tested this though and requested a customer to pay us in Norwegian kroner to the Euro account based in Estonia. Stay tuned for the result.

Airwallex do not offer accounts in Swiss Franc or European fringe currencies like Danish kroner, Norwegian kroner and Swedish krona. However, you can exchange Euros to the currency you desire and make the wire in the local currency. We tried this for Norwegian kroner, but found that the exchange rate were slightly poorer than that offered by a main bank in Norway. Typically the smaller European currencies carry a transaction cost of around 1%.

Jack Zhang

The CEO and co-founder of Airwallex, Jack Zhang, was born in Qingdao, China. As a teenager, he moved to Australia where he studied in high school and the University of Melbourne, then worked in financial services.

The idea for Airwallex came from co-founder Max Li who was running a retail business and importing a lot from Shenzhen to Australia. The high fees related to international payments and currency exchange led them to think there has to be a better way.

The Global Accounts come with their unique account numbers, SWIFT codes and routing numbers. But they are not like the real bank accounts we are used to. They merely act as collection points for what Airwallex calls the ‘Wallet’.

So instead of being kept in a bank vault in the country where they were collected, all the US dollars pouring in through your global accounts around the world end up in your digital Airwallex USD Wallet. From there, you can easily transfer them further or exchange them to other currencies – at the very low rates mentioned earlier.

Local accounts available with Airwallex
Country Currency Account receiving capabilities
UK GBP Domestic, BACS, CHAPS, FPS
USA USD ACH, Fedwire, SWIFT
Germany EUR SEPA
Estonia EUR SWIFT, SEPA
Hong Kong USD, HKD, CNY SWIFT
Australia AUD BSB, SWIFT
Local accounts available with Airwallex
Country Currency Account receiving
capabilities
UK GBP Domestic, BACS, CHAPS, FPS
USA USD ACH, Fedwire, SWIFT
Germany EUR SEPA
Estonia EUR SWIFT, SEPA
Hong Kong USD, HKD, CNY SWIFT
Australia AUD BSB, SWIFT

While many of the local accounts/Wallets can process SWIFT, the British one cannot. This means it does not receive non-Airwallex transfers from abroad, only local payments. With Wallets in other countries, however, you can just ask clients to transfer money into one of those – e.g. a German account – and then transfer that to your UK Wallet with Airwallex’s low exchange rate.

The interface makes it fun

The user experience is miles ahead of what you would typically find with a traditional bank with a legacy interface. All the account features are accessible in a browser dashboard, which is intuitive and easy to navigate.

Airwallex interface

The Airwallex account is managed in a computer browser.

Only in the past month was an Airwallex iOS app released. Because it is brand new, many features are missing, so it will take a while for it to be as useful as the dashboard. The app does, however, give an overview of your accounts, balances and transactions, plus you can convert funds between Wallets.

Access to funds with Visa Business card

At the moment, only UK-, Australia- and Hong Kong-based businesses can add a business debit card to their account, but Airwallex plans to expand this to more countries.

Australian account holders can create and manage multiple virtual ‘Airwallex Borderless Cards’ in the online dashboard for employees, contractors and account admins. Australia is the only country so far that Airwallex issues physical cards for – and it does not yet work in ATMs.

Airwallex debit card

Airwallex cards can be added and managed in the online dashboard.

The virtual cards have a cardholder name, card number, expiry date and CVV code, which can be used purely for online purchases and subscriptions where Visa is accepted.

Card transactions will automatically use the Wallet matching the transaction currency, so there is no currency conversion cost. If there is a currency exchange, you get competitive FX rates and a low conversion rate when using the card, so it’s much better than a normal bank card for cross-border transactions.

Accepting payments online

Apart from receiving wires to the bank accounts, Airwallex is also a payment gateway. The ability to accept multiple currencies without being forced to convert will be a draw for international ecommerce businesses.

The integration options are limited to WooCommerce and Magento at the moment, where the Airwallex plugin is available.

Airwallex is also a Payment Service Provider for Amazon, which allows Airwallex customers to settle their Amazon earnings straight into their Airwallex account.

Airwallex also offers Pay by Link, which allows merchants to send payment links or QR codes by sms, email or social messaging apps to customers for secure online payment.

The fee structure for online payments is that of Interchange ++. While complex, it allows merchants to only pay for what they use.

Reports and integrations

The Airwallex account contains the usual balance overview and transactions reports you can expect from any business account.

On top of that, Airwallex automatically integrates with Xero. It actually updates hourly, as opposed to most banks that only sync transactions with your accounting software once a day. You can even have separate bank feeds in Xero for each currency in Airwallex, making it easier to track payments and balances.

We have tested the Xero-Airwallex integration for one month with USD, Euro and GBP, and the multi-currency account sync has worked perfectly. Most Airwallex accounts require a premium Xero subscription, though, except for the GBP Wallet that works with a standard Xero subscription.

What about ecommerce integrations? Airwallex has its own online payment gateway that experienced developers can install in compatible website builders. This way, you can run a global online store that sells in multiple currencies into the Airwallex account, avoiding exchange fees in the process.

Limitations: not all accounts accept SWIFT

There are important and somewhat confusing caveats. The accounts you get in Europe, UK and US are in your company’s name, e.g. Acme Limited. This looks very professional and respectable.

When we opened an account, the plethora of accounts available in Hong Kong had the characters ACC- in front of the name, so the account holder’s name becomes ACC-Acme Limited. This will undoubtedly confuse many a bookkeeper, and if they don’t get the recipient’s name exactly right when paying your invoices, the transfers will be rejected or possibly even lost. Airwallex has now informed us this issue is sorted – new accounts will not get the ACC naming.

Another issue to keep in mind is how much the transfer methods vary by bank and country.

Your USD account in New York is wonderful; it can handle domestic ACH and Fedwire transfers as well as international SWIFT. However, while the account in the United Kingdom happily accepts domestic Faster Payments Transfers, CHAPS and BACS, it does not take SWIFT.

Your account in Germany is good for SEPA payments, but not for international SWIFT transfers. If you ask the support team nicely, though, Airwallex might open another EUR account for you elsewhere that actually supports SWIFT.

Airwallex Global Accounts

Airwallex Global Accounts use different transfer methods, which can be confusing.

Also, if you expect to receive transfers from individual persons, it’s something you need to discuss with Airwallex beforehand. Your German bank will not accept those.

The feeblest of your accounts will be the Japanese one. It cannot be used for normal invoicing, and can only accept sales proceeds from a small group of platforms in Japan such as Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google, JD.com and Shopify. This also gives us a hint at who Airwallex is targeting and who it is best suited for.

Careful onboarding process, but faster than most banks

Opening accounts here and there without as much as a personal visit to a bank branch – all while possibly wearing pyjamas at home – may sound like a money launderer’s dream. Airwallex is undeniably at some risk offering its services, and needs to be extra careful of who it accepts as customers.

As a result, many applications are being classified as too high-risk and thus rejected, sometimes without the customer understanding why. We have also seen reports of customers being terminated after a couple of weeks, when the compliance department concluded that the account terms were breached.

The polarisation of Airwallex reviews online, most of which seem to be either five stars or just one, seems to illustrate this. The ones accepted as customers are overjoyed using the service, while some are being declined, sometimes after a prolonged process where more documentation has been requested and there has also been an onboarding call before the final ‘no’.

During the application process, Airwallex requests basic company documents and ID copies and suggests they will be reviewed in one business day. While this may be true for the simplest cases, some additional documentation is often required, for example an organisation chart indicating beneficial owners. This can prolong the process by a few days.

Attentive customer service

While some businesses experience a lengthy application process or are rejected, the ones who pass the sign-up typically have a great experience

After verification of the application, a 30-minute introductory chat is offered to showcase the platform and discuss ways to use it. You can book a slot from your relationship manager’s calendar, and they will be your contact point going forward.

We found the assigned relationship manager to be knowledgeable and highly attentive. Email queries seemed to attract a personal response very quickly.

This is in contrast with many online business accounts who have received a bad rep for customer support, for instance Monzo.

business bank account self employed

Working as a sole trader?

Best business accounts for freelancers

Our verdict

If you handle multiple currencies and want to get better control of the exchange rates and wire fees, Airwallex is a welcome alternative to most bank accounts.

It’s extremely cheap for companies that both receive and send money in the same major currencies, as you can completely bypass fees with the different local accounts. When you do need to convert currencies, the cost is very low compared to most cross-border payment solutions.

The service is not fully developed, and you might not get access to all your currencies and local accounts you need right away. It also seems that Airwallex is geared towards online companies that do not need to pay for anything in person, or just use the account for online payments.

For most businesses, it won’t be a standalone business account, but it is a great supplement that integrates seamlessly with Xero and saves you both time and money.

Name of Reviewed Item: Airwallex UK Rating Value: 4 Image: https://www.mobiletransaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/airwallex-laptop.jpg Review Author:Review Date: