Ten years after launch, British payments group TransferWise is changing its name. Meet ‘Wise’.
It’s not ‘just’ a money transfer company anymore and the name change is designed to highlight the company’s expanded portfolio of services.
“Our name catches up with who we’re already building for a community of people and businesses with multi-currency lives,” said Kristo Käärmann, CEO and cofounder. “We’ve evolved to fix more than just money transfer, but the core experience of using Wise will remain.”
Wise now offers three products: an international currency account, a business account and a platform which allows fintech customers (like Monzo, GoCardless and Xero) to use the Wise infrastructure for their own cross border payments.
Wise currently processes £4.5bn in payments every month and has 10m customers. It reported a 70% growth in revenue, to £303m, across the year to March 2020, as well as a doubling of profit.
Wise was valued at $5bn last year, after a $319m secondary share sale, and is expected to IPO later this year. Peter Thiel and Richard Branson were among the company’s early backers when it was launched in 2011.
James Greenfield, founder of branding agency Koto, explains that changing name is a decision companies shouldn’t take lightly.
“A name change is a complex communication challenge which requires education for existing customers,” he says. “There can also be issues around SEO, purchasing new URLs, obtaining new social handles, the cost of implementation, lost revenue and issues with trademarking.”
There have been a few examples of name chances backfiring, Greenfield says. There was US startup Bodega, which failed to predict how its name would go down culturally. (In its new guise as ‘Stockwell AI’ it didn’t fare much better; the company closed down in June last year.) Then there was Apple, which named its iPhone the iPhoneX, failing to realise that everyone would read it as a X and not the 10 it had intended.
Other name changes have worked out well. Monzo famously waded through 12.6k name suggestions from delighted customers before deciding to change just one letter of its original name, Mondo. Plenty of smaller European startups, like healthtech companies Patchwork, Second Nature and Perla have changed names seemingly without a hiccup. But it’s easier to change names when you’re small.
“There is a point of scale at which a company should only rename if there are reasons that mean it has to,” says Greenfield. “These are often for trademark clashes, linguistic acceptability in a broader market or the name no longer fitting the product. It’s why it is crucial that companies should give naming the thought it requires at inception, to avoid issues at a later date.”
Swedish healthtech giant Kry fell short with the pronounceability of its name, failing to anticipate that many Europeans would be entirely incapable of rolling their ‘r’s like a Swede. It is now known as Livi in France, Germany and the UK.
Wise isn’t the first company to outgrow its functional name and opt for something a little more vague.
“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with early stage companies is that they choose a name that is too specific to one product or vertical, communications consultant Charlotte McCrum.
“That means that they paint themselves into a corner in terms of growth and diversification. It’s a balance between having something that easily describes your current offering and doesn’t require too much explanation and matching the long term vision of where the business could end up.”
Choosing a new name is hard, but it isn’t the only tricky thing, says Greenfield. “The process of change is hard for a lot of people to go through. We have worked with a number of startups who have had to change for legal reasons and the mourning around a name they have an emotional relationship with is tough to navigate.”