Thursday, 7 May 2020

Stop Using Timesheets - Tracking Time Is Not Tracking Productivity

I previously wrote an article (rant) about timesheets. That article prompted many discussions about further issues.

See it here:
https://anthonydotnet.blogspot.com/2019/09/stop-using-timesheets.html

In this article I will debunk the notion of using timesheets to track Productivity.

Productivity Is

Productivity can be viewed as the output of value. It is a completed piece of work that provides value to a team/organisation/company/customer/colleague.

Value

A person's output must be add value. Therefore the output must be complete in some form so that a  team/organisation/company/customer/colleague can benefit from the time and effort that was spent creating that output.

I have seen many companies where people start many things, they work hard, they work overtime, and yet they produce little value. An incomplete bridge is of no value. 


Quality

Productivity has a quality element. If a person produces something of low quality, it may be deemed as having little value. Thus, producing low quality work is not really productive.


Time Tracking Is Not Tracking Productivity

Timesheets are a record of utilised time. Utilisation is not the same as productivity (output).

The perceived utilisation of a person's time can be at 100%, however their output may be half-started work items of low quality.

But what about...
I hear some people saying that they are using timesheets to track the time for completed tasks, as each task has its own code.

Realistically, tracking the time for each task doesn't give you the information you think it does. But I hear you exclaiming "A manager can use the time tracked on a task to help a developer become more productive!"

As a manager I already know the strengths and weaknesses of my staff. I don't need a timesheet to do this! Moreover, comparing tasks is not useful as no 2 tasks are the same. There are many different variables that can affect a developer's productivity at a specific task. For example, designs, requirements, client interactions, quality of acceptance criteria. That's not even including stress, illness, and family life.


How To Track Productivity

One great way to track productivity is by counting the number of tasks a person does over a period of time. It's that easy.... In fact it's Dang Easy!

For example, in a given month, count the number of completed tickets/cards in your project management tool (eg. Trello, Jira, Asana, Kanbanize, Leankit) for a given developer. Then count the number of defects which were raised by QA for that developer in the same time period.

Now you have their output over time, and a quality metric which you can use to compare this developer against their own future productivity scores.

You can even use these numbers to compare different developer's productivity.

It's that easy! You don't need timesheets to do this.


Final Thoughts

I hope that I have given you food for thought. Tracking a person's time is not the same as tracking their productivity. Timesheets do not track a person's output, and they do not track a person's rate of output.

A good manager does not need timesheets to figure out if their staff are productive, efficient, and delivering value for the organisation.







Thursday, 30 April 2020

Email Tips For Better Productivity

As Technical Director at an agency, I am thrusted across all projects that touch digital. I literally get 100's of emails per day. Before I added email filters, my inbox had at least 30 emails per hour. Most of these emails were just me being CC'd and never really require a response, and many of them are conversational email threads. If you are in a similar situation as me, then you might feel that you are spending more time deleting & sorting emails, than actually reading them.

Here are a a few email tips to help make your day more productive.


Tip 1 - The CC filter

Create a filter for CC'd emails to be automatically moved to a CC folder. Emails which you are CC'd on are just for your reference. If the email really needed your attention or a response then you would be in the main recipient list.

Adding a CC filter will drastically free up your inbox for emails which are actually directed to you.

I got this tip from Scott Hanselman, and it works wonders!

Tip 2 - Labels/Folders

Set up labels to help you find things later. Since I am overseeing all the digital clients, I have at least 20 labels so I can search for client specific emails later. This works really well if you are using something like GMail. For those using Outlook, it is a bit more clunky with folders, however this can greatly help keep your inbox less cluttered.

Tip 3 - Abruptly Cut Email Threads Short

Have you ever been in a long painful email thread? It's like a game of ping pong which never ends. If you notice that an email thread has more than 3 back and forth exchanges, then abruptly cut it short.

Your next email should be something like: "It seems that this requires further discussion. Let's have a quick call to discuss properly".


Tip 4 - Drive Emails To Calls

If you need to ask a client (or anyone for that matter) something, then of course you can ask it in the email. However, that same email could also include something like "Let's have a call to discuss further!".

You would be amazed how fast your day goes when you are not burdened with back and forth emails which clog up your inbox.

Tip 5 - Use Email for Summaries

Use email as repository, not as a main form of communication. Opt have a conversation over the phone, or by video conference first. Then follow up with an email summary of what was agreed. This will stop those painful never ending back-and-forth email threads.

Tip 6 - Move Internal Communication to Slack

If your organisation has Slack (or something similar), then this is a great alternative to email. Many emails are conversational, which means that they can be easily moved into a chat channel or direct personal message.

By reducing/eliminating conversational emails, your inbox will be more lean, and it will be easier to find the things that are actually important.



Final Thoughts

Email noise can reduce your productivity. When you have lots of emails, it is very hard figure out what is important. By following a few simple steps, you can reduce the noise, and stay productive.

I hope you found this article useful.




Friday, 24 April 2020

My Number One Mental Health Tip Is Nothing

In this modern age we are constantly switched on, and our brains are engaged in something. We wake up, and the first thing we do is look at a smartphone screen. We sit in front of computers which have Slack/MS Teams, not to mention emails. We "relax" by flipping through Youtube videos, and we end our days with a smartphone.

That's f**king nuts!

Depleting Mental Energy

Our attention is pulled in different directions at least dozens of times per day, which means we are constantly mentally engaged in something. The continuous context switching uses up mental and emotional energy, and we don't even realise it until it's too late. Burn out, depression and a laundry list of other mental health issues can arise.

Worst of all, we have conditioned ourselves to actively seek out those distractions. We have developed an anxiety about NOT having things to engage with.

Our brains did not evolve to be in constant stimulation mode, and this is really effecting our mental health. Imagine a body builder who only works out their biceps. You're probably thinking that such a person would look unnatural. Constantly engaging our brains without rest is also NOT natural.

What can we do about it?

Nothing

I have discovered that one of the most important things for my own mental health is to do nothing.

I sat outside the other day with a coffee. I was going to grab my smartphone out of habit, but something inside me said "I don't have the mental energy to look at that thing right now". So I sat there with my coffee. No smartphone, no laptop, no tablet, not even a book. Just me, a coffee and the sounds of the city.

As I sat there and looked out into the sky and our small garden, I let my mind be in the moment. No engaging in problem solving, no active thinking. Just me and my surroundings. My mind was able to wonder, and when I started to think about something I would calmly bring my attention back to my surroundings... Just listening to the birds, leaves, trains and traffic.

After sitting there for an 1hr, I felt mentally calmer, less tense, and more collected. My brain had more focus and energy.

I realised that for me, the most important thing I can do is to do nothing. To be more specific, to do nothing that would engage my mind. Some people find this state when they exercise, others meditate. The most important thing is putting aside some time to rest your mind.

Final Thoughts

Our modern age is full of gadgets and communication tools which require constant active engagement.  As humans we did not evolve to be constantly stimulated. Our brains and emotions only have a certain capacity, and when depleted, mental health issues may arise. This is why it is important to tune out as often as possible.

For me the most important thing I do is nothing. I sit with a coffee, no phone, no tablet, no laptop, not even a book. Some people will go for walks, others will actively meditate. Do what works for you to help your mind rest.







Monday, 30 March 2020

Remote Working - The Most Important Meetings

In this article I want to talk about some meetings which I hope every company will be running each week.

The Monday Kickoff

In an office setting, I would only interact with a few people in my department each week. Sometimes entire weeks go by and I would not have interacted with a couple of the strategists or designers. But in an office setting I can still see their faces at their desks. I know that they exist, and what they do. When your entire department is remote, you have lost that simple human connection of seeing someone's face. This is why the Monday morning kickoff is so important.

The Monday morning kick off meeting is the most important meeting of the week. I'm not just talking about setting weekly priorities and getting status updates. I'm not talking about everyone seeing what everyone is doing either. I'm talking about seeing all the faces in your department. It's about having that human connection. For some people, it will be the only time in the week where you will actually see other people in your department.

If your department workflow allows it, I would recommend having another check-in point in addition to the Monday kickoff. For example, some companies might want to hold a status meeting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. These are natural intervals which are not very intrusive.


Daily Project Stand-up

Seeing all of your teammates each day is very important. It's not good enough to just send them a message on a Slack channel. Seeing a person on video helps keep people connected in a human way.

Each team in your department should have a video call each day. Some teams will want this at 9am, while others prefer another time of the day. It's totally ok to have a daily project at 5pm. Just ensure that this daily call is held at the same time every day, everyone attends, and everyone gets a chance to speak.

In a Scrum team, we time-box this to 15mins. It is simply a quick check in so that people can flag any issues for the day. There is typically no need to go beyond 15mins.


Friday Round-off

When we are in a physical office, I typically see this starting around 3pm or 4pm (depending on your team/organisation). People tend to become a little more relaxed and chatty. This is the team bonding over the successes and challenges of the week. People ask what they are doing on the weekend. So rounding off the week is a ritual of comradeship.

Human interaction (seeing faces) is really important, and we all crave it in all different ways. So my recommendation is do have a Friday Round-off video call.

Last week, all the developers had an end of week Zoom call. Most of us had not seen each other all week (let alone chatted), so this was a great opportunity to just catch up and chat about things. This is an opportunity to actually interact with people who you normally don't see.

This meeting doesn't have to be the entire department. It totally depends on you. It just needs to be social, and is meant to simulate your Friday afternoon casual chats. You may even decide to do something like a Friday Bar. It's a great global Umbraco community Friday event.


Final Thoughts

Remote teams need rituals to facilitate human interaction. I recommend a Monday Kickoff, Daily Check-ins/Stand-ups, and Friday Round-off. These meetings are not meant to be just for status updates (although still very important). These meetings are a chance for your teams to see each others faces and have human interaction.

I hope you find this article useful, and I highly recommend you introduce these video calls in your remote teams.








Sunday, 29 March 2020

Project Management Methodologies - Agile or Waterfall?

When it comes to project methodologies, the answer is not as simple as just doing Agile or Waterfall. It often really depends on the project, the type of work, the stakeholder, and the types of people in the team.

There is one word which really gets under my skin and that is “Wa-gile”. There are companies who say that they are Wa-gile. It seems that this means that they have adopted some of the terminology, but have not bothered to read or understand the agile manifesto. So they use the terminology but not the practices.

Waterfall - What is it good for?

The type of work and the stakeholder may necessitate doing things in a Waterfall fashion. 

If you are working with design jobs (no development) they go from scoping to concept, to versions, to final sign-off. These types of projects are very much Waterfall by nature. You can however make them more efficient by reducing documentation in favour of "versions". In design projects you will typically go back and forth with multiple versions anyway. So there's little value trying to document every design element before you even do a mockup.

Government projects also tend to be very prescriptive, and front-loaded with specifications. Therefore Waterfall is quite common even with technology builds. This is a scenario where the stakeholder basically forces the start of the project to run in a certain way. 

Sneaking In Agile

In software development, running an entire project in Waterfall often leads to disaster. The projects over run, and the tail end of the project and drag on longer than the original project. Fear not though...

It's totally ok to have a front-loaded Waterfall project, because you can still run a Waterfall project in an Agile way. Some clever stakeholder hand-holding may allow you sneak in some agile principles to help the project run smoother.

Ways to sneak in some Agile
  • Reduce the word length of any documentation in exchange for diagrams, and external links to definitions & other documentation
  • Do sprints during the build
    • Define a tangible sprint goal
    • Each sprint must deliver a "done" increment of the product
  • Demo to the client as often as possible
  • Ask for frequent check-in points
    • You can even call these status meetings
    • Tell the client: Even though things are heavily scoped, there are always some stakeholders who wont like something at the 11th hour, so we want to try to be proactive so the project doesn't over run
If you can’t get the stakeholders time, then ask for someone to be in their place. If there is total resistance from anyone on the stakeholders side to be engaged in the project then I would suggest that you nominate a person in your organisation to be a surrogate stakeholder. This person would try to understand the stakeholder’s motivations. 

Hopefully you can see that even though a Waterfall project is very front-loaded, internally you can actually have a few rituals in place to run it in an Agile way.


Final Thoughts

I hope I have shown you that it's not always as simple as Waterfall vs Agile. Waterfall is ok for some types of work, and sometimes the stakeholder (eg. Government departments) forces this on the project team. In software development this can be a disaster, so in my opinion it is really important to add Agile principles into the project. You can still have a Waterfall project, while using Agile principles.






COVID-19 Social Distancing Is Bringing People Closer

This sounds strange, but I think at some level you probably already get what I mean.

Working From Home

It has only been 2 weeks since the UK was told to work form home. Up until 2 weeks ago, many companies were afraid of letting people work remotely. They thought that people would be less connected and less productive. From what I have seen and heard, nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that everyone knows this is is a tough economic time. People know that their jobs are on the line if the company fails, so I have seen a focus and determination to succeed and be productive.

Why were people distant before?

In my own personal experience, it's super awkward when 2 people are at the coffee machine and not they don't even say a word to each other. We may work on the same floor but I can't remember your name or even if I've met you. We're both probably thinking: I'm not being rude. I just don't want to embarrass myself by asking your name again. There may have previously been an awkward encounter which was nobody's fault, but it's just easier to just say nothing and then get out of there really quickly. I'm sure everyone has had this situation before.

If you are in a big company, there are people who's names you don't know, and people you have never talked to. There may even be a person who you actively avoid because of a disagreement in a meeting one time. Before social distancing, we were already distant.


How are we closer?

Humans need social contact. We crave it so much that we develop unconscious habits (some healthy, some unhealthy) to get some sort of interaction.

My personal observations...
It has only been a couple weeks, but it seems that the world has embraced online communication tools such as Slack, Zoom, and others.

Slack channels are noisy with chatter and banter. Zoom calls somehow feel more engaging and productive than previous real life meetings. Does anyone else have that feeling? I guess it is a combination of the 40min time limit (don't fluff... just get to the point), and also video conferencing etiquette. No one is in the drivers seat on a Zoom call. We're all driving.

In general, conversations seem to be more meaningful and deeper now. People seem to be more calm, open and personal. This is partially because people feel more relaxed in their homes, but also hugely because we all crave human interaction. The social distancing seems to be resulting in people being nicer to each other online. Has anyone noticed this?

I find myself Slacking and Zooming to colleagues who I have never met before.  There is a sense of solidarity within my department, and the company as a whole. For the first time in my lifetime, the world is united against a common foe, and this is bringing people together. Many of you will even notice where there was once some "professional friction", there is now the start of camaraderie.


Final Thoughts

Humans are meant to be social. We crave interaction, and develop habits (healthy & unhealthy) to facilitate interactions. Social distancing is a strange situation, and means that people are forming new habits of communication to stay connected. That social "in person" awkwardness at the coffee machine seems like it is dissolving. People are forming bonds which they would not have formed before. There is some real camaraderie forming because as humans we crave it.

It is a cliche, but distance does make the heart grow fonder.



Thursday, 19 March 2020

COVID-19 Remote Working Communication Tools

I've been using Slack and Zoom for years, and I'm glad to see people embracing these tools.

As many companies have been moving their staff to work from home, there is some confusion about what people should use Slack and Zoom for. They can feel like "yet another tool" to use. So I thought it would be helpful to outline how I have been using Slack and Zoom to keep remote workers & teams productive.

There are no hard rules when it comes to communication. Keep your ear to the ground, and do what is best for your organisation. Not all of this will be applicable for everyone. It's just some food for thought.


Slack

Hopefully if you are reading this article you know what Slack is.

Department Channels

We have channels for disciplines, and also cross-interest channels for social events and learning.

We prefix our department/discipline channels with "team" so that it is obvious which channels are for teams. Non-department channels don't need a prefix, as they are open.

Here is an example of some of our Digital Experience (DX) channels: 
  • team_pm
    • Project Managers
  • team_development
    • Developers
  • team_dx 
    • Entire department
  • team_digital_design
    • UI & UX Designers
  • team_dx_social
    • Only for social events etc
  • tech_links
    • Learning and sharing knowledge

Note: As a company we have chosen to use underscores for our channel names. It doesn't matter if you use underscores or hyphens. What ever your organisation is comfortable with is the thing that matters.

Project Channels

We have channels for each client. If a client is Slack-savvy, then we invite them to communicate with us on a dedicated client channel. The build/development team have a lot of chatter about implementation and day-to-day issues, so we have another channel so we do not clutter any other channel.

One of our clients is ArcelorMittal, so I'll use them as an example:
  • arcelormittal
    • All internal project chatter
  • arcelormittal_client
    • Shared with the client
    • Reduces email chatter
  • arcelormittal_dev
    • Build team chatter
    • The Scrum Master is also part of this channel, but doesnt have to be

Private Channels

Generally I think that private channels should be avoided, except for a few scenarios:
  • Management
    • Sensitive conversations regarding the organisation should sometimes be private
  • Human Resources
    • Internal HR discussions about staff should be confidential
  • A super secret surprise 
    • eg. Organising a birthday present
People should be encouraged to be allowed to drop into public channels, then drop out. Think of it like walking into an open office to ask a question to the room.


Direct Messages

Direct messages are a great way to reduce channel clutter. We often broadcast a message in a channel, then decide to move a conversation to direct messages or a call.

Direct messages with multiple people is also possible, however I prefer to avoid this scenario. If you do need to have a direct message with multiple people, then keep it to 2 or 3 people. Otherwise it might be better to create a channel temporarily. Ideally just have a call with them!


Calls On Slack

This is one of Slack's best features! I personally use the call feature when I need to get someone's attention. It is like calling a person's mobile. If they are at their computer then they cannot ignore it :)

Slack calls are great for quick face to face discussions. Use Slack calls so you don't have to type as much. It is far easier to talk than to type. Another fantastic thing about Slack Calls is that you can add other people during the call.

We often screenshare Word docs and Powerpoint slides while on Slack calls. Think of it like being in a room with a big screen.


Channel calls are also possible, however if you are going to have more than 3 people, then we opt for Zoom.


Zoom

Zoom is by far the best video conferencing tool I have ever used. It is intuitive, and just works. Best of all, there is no one in the driver's seat. Everyone is the driver, and it feels so collaborative. Zoom allows you to have up to 100 participants on the free plan, for 40min calls. That's insanely good!

Zoom's enterprise plan allows you to have 1000 participants!

Client Calls

We try to get clients to use Zoom so we can have a real video call with them.

Zoom invitations also include standard phone number. This is fantastic for people people who do not have access to a computer or are unable to do video calls. They can just dial in, while everyone else can still use video on the call.

It should go without saying that Zoom's screen sharing is industry leading. We try to screenshare with our clients so we can go through Word docs, do demos, get feedback on designs, and anything else that you can think of.

The other great thing about Zoom is the recording feature.

Internal Calls / Meetings

Zoom is fantastic for internal meetings that require more than 3 people.

If you are using the free version, then you are limited to a 40 minute. If your company typically has 1hr meetings (or longer), then this will force you to be more productive. Of course, you can always just rejoin the call if you reach your 40min limit. However, most people will want to start wrapping up the call when they see the 10min reminder.



Final Thoughts

As you can see, we use Slack and Zoom for different scenarios.

Slack is a great collaboration tool, and it's call feature is fantastic for quick conversations. Think of Slack as a day to day collaboration tool to increase face to face interaction. When it comes to client calls or regular internal meetings, we use Zoom. Think of Zoom as a meeting/conferencing tool.

Remember, that not everything here will be applicable to everyone. How you use these tools will be defined by what is best for your organisation.

I hope this article has been helpful.







Monday, 16 March 2020

COVID-19 Remote Working Check List

In my previous article I hopefully convinced you that COVID-19 corona virus is an opportunity for businesses to modernise and improve processes. In this article I would like to give you some suggestions for how you can help remote working be more efficient and effective.


People Before Process

While this can be a time for rapid change for many companies, you cant just throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. You need to do things intelligently, and most of all, listen to your employees. Don't just tell them what your policies and processes will be! You would be very surprised how different people work (and interact) with each other when they are remote.

Working from home isn't for most people. A feeling of isolation and even depression may quickly settle in. If you are in a leadership position, then you must be ever diligent to contact your remote staff members to give them human support they need to cope work remotely.

My Suggested Routines For Remote Working

When I was Head of Development at The Cogworks I establish processes to work effectively when we had people in 5 locations over 3 countries, with 2 satellite offices. Many of the processes I introduced were to tackle issues of isolation.

Here are some quick wins which I hope will help your staff adapt to working from home.
  1. Ensure everyone has a working (decent quality) webcam and microphone for video calls
  2. Hold a Monday morning video call to kick start the week for the entire team (or even department)
  3. Hold a weekday morning "standup" video call every day for the entire team (or even department)
  4. Hold a weekly retrospective meeting every week (eg. Friday 10am) to discuss:
    • What works well for them while working from home
    • What they want to improve to help them work from home
  5. Encourage people to video call each other
    • Don't just write emails or Slack messages
    • Seeing a person's face is very important. Ensure people have webcams for video!!!
  6. Have everyone send a group message to let others know when they:
    • Start work
    • Go for lunch
    • Get back from lunch
    • Finish work
  7. Consider a permanent zoom or slack video call for your team so everyone can real see faces all day
  8. Encourage people to ask colleagues for feedback on their work
    • Very easy if you have creative workers
  9. Hold a show & tell session with screen sharing & video
    • At Cogworks we initially called this "Code and Tell"
  10. Encourage staff to proactively check in each other via video calls
  11. Encourage people to have virtual video lunch together


Tools For Remote Productivity

In terms of tools, here is my goto list for remote productivity. Not all of these are suitable for every company, but I hope they give you an idea of the possibilities of online tools to make your job easier.


Day to Day Communication

Project Scoping & Documentation

Day To Day Task Management

Final Thoughts

Remote working is definitely not for everyone. During this time of remote working en mass, you will need to be very diligent when it comes to your staff wellbeing. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas.

The routines listed in this article do actually work. I hope you really do give at least some of them a try. 






COVID-19 Corona Virus Is An Opportunity For Businesses

In the last couple weeks, I have been privy to various conversations at my company regarding the realities of the COVID-19 Corona Virus on the business. All scenarios have been put forward, and the preparedness of the company has been centre to all discussions. The possibility (now a reality) of people working form home en mass means that the 200 person company is facing one of its biggest challenges in its 30 year history.


See my next article for tips on helping remote working be more effective.

Why I'm Not Worried

When I was Head of Development at The Cogworks I helped establish processes to work effectively when we had people in 5 locations over 3 countries, with 2 satellite offices. At times it truly felt like a remote-first agency, and I really wanted to see that at Radley Yeldar in a larger scale.

In the past 8-10 months the Digital Department at Radley Yeldar has been organically (with a few nudges) ramping up it's remote working processes. People have been working from home far more often. This has been helped largly by great Slack habits, which has resulted in the Digital Department introducing Slack processes for the entire company.



Another great communication tool has been Zoom, and it has overtaken all other forms of conferencing choices with our clients. In fact, one of our clients was already using Zoom internally, and they were only using traditional conference calls and Skype for Business because they thought they had to.

In terms of projects and planning, Stories on Board integration with Jira has been a true success story with our Scrum practices, we are using Trello more often, and we even started using OneDrive for shared documents.

So in the last couple weeks, while the rest of the company was trying to ensure that working from home was going to be productive, I have to be honest and say that I have been mostly blasé about the "work from home" situation.



Why Is COVID-19 An Opportunity For Businesses?

In my time, I have worked with many companies. I have seen bleeding edge adoption of new technologies and processes, dinosaur companies where they were too afraid to change anything, and everything in between.

As today, the UK Government has recommended that everyone who can work from home should do so. While this is an enormous challenge for most companies, it is a fantastic opportunity to modernise with conviction. For those of you in companies which have been slow to adopt working from home policies, tools, and processes, this is an opportunity for you to help your company modernise.

Adapt or perish! What might have taken years of unbearably slow incremental changes is now literally happening within a matter of weeks. This is an exciting time for innovation and ideas. Companies now have the motivation to try new things, get real input from their employees, and create meaningful actions to help people work from home more effectively.

After the dust settles, my hope is that most businesses will hold on to the new processes, and allow people to work from home more often. This could be a catalyst for remote working becoming mainstream.

Remember The People

While this is a great opportunity to modernise, you need to be aware that you have real human people working for you. Working from home is definitely not right for most people, so you need to be aware that isolation and depression can settle in very quickly. You need to actively encourage communication with all of your team, and have routines which facilitate this.

I outline some tips in my next article.

Final Thoughts

I hope that I have given a positive spin on this ordeal. This doesn't need to be a burden. Businesses truly have a great opportunity to modernise and become more efficient. With this challenge, please remember that the happiness of your staff is the most important thing. You need to help them adapt to these rapid changes.

In my next article, I outline some suggestions to help remote working more efficient.




Saturday, 29 February 2020

Transferwise Borderless Account Review

Transferwise Borderless Account Review

I've been using Transferwise for several years. Recently they created a new product called "Borderless Account", which allows you to hold money in various currencies. You can essentially use Transferwise as a bank, and have many "Balances", each one accepting a different major currency. You are given a real bank account number with real sort/routing code etc.

It has an optional debit card which can be used overseas without the usual big bank charges.

I often send money back to Australia, so I thought that I would give it a try.

What Is It For?

If you are a person who has ties to more than one country, then you probably have bank account in those countries. This can be a pain. If you need to accept money in another currency, then up until now, one of the only easy ways was via Paypal. However Paypal transfers are quite expensive, and are not "real" bank transfers. The other party also needs a Paypal account. This is where Transferwise saw an opportunity.

The use case is for accepting money in another currency, using real bank accounts via a single portal. The crazy thing is that any person can open up a real bank account, with real local sort/routing banking codes for that country. I was tempted to open an account in other currencies just because!


Opening a Balance

If you are already a Transferwise customer, then opening a "Balance" is as easy as selecting a currency, then a couple confirmation clicks. They really nailed the user experience here. It was frighteningly easy to open a Balance in GBP.

One important thing to note is that they only give you your account number and sort/routing number AFTER to send some money to it yourself.  I sent £20 to the standard Transferwise account, with my user number in the description. My account and sort code were instantly available. So this meant I could send myself some GBP.

I went ahead and sent £10 to my new bank account via it's sort code and account number. It arrived within seconds!

The entire process was:
1. Open the account - Select a currency, and click a couple confirmations
2. Get my sort code & account number - Send £20 to the standard Transferwise account (with my customer reference ID in the description)
3. Test my new account - Send any amount to the new account

It took only a few minutes in total.


Sending Money

Sending money from a Balance requires the normal Transferwise flow, until you get to the end.

I decided to send 10 AUD, and it was super simple. But there is a catch...

Take a look at the fees (see image below).



The fee incurred when sending from the Balance is higher than ALL the other types of ways to complete the transaction. It's even more expensive than using a credit card. This seems crazy, considering all the other services require 3rd party companies. I wonder how these fees add up when transferring larger amounts.


Features I Want To See

I like to automate my life where possible, so I would love to see the following:
1. Automatic scheduled exchange between Balances
2. Automatic scheduled exchange between Balances when the exchange rate reaches a desired threshold
3. Automatic transfer from a Balance to a 3rd party account, when the Balance reaches a threshold

I did take a look at the Transferwise API, and all of this is actually possible, with the possible exception of exchange rate notification. I might see about writing an Azure Function App to do all of this for me :)


Final Thoughts

Opening a "Balance" is frighteningly easy, and I was tempted to open up Balances in countries which I have never even been to. The addition of a debit card seems very useful as you don't get charged massive fees when overseas, however if you already have an account with Revolut, Monzo, Curve etc. then you might not care.

There is a slight temptation to close all of my bank accounts, and just use Transferwise. However,  realistically, this seems reckless. No one knows what will happen to banks, Transferwise, and governments in the future, so I would rather spread my risk.

There are a couple features which I'm sure Transferwise have considered. Everything I can personally think of doing is available in their API So I look forward to seeing this product evolve.

I hope you found this review helpful.