How to Secretly Get the Customer Persona Insights of a Competitor (Without Going to Jail): TransferWise Case Study

If you need to understand a customer, why not just pick up the phone (Zoom) and talk to them instead of ‘sherlock-holming’  in the background?

Well, sometimes you’re an introvert and would gladly try to walk on water than talk to a stranger, other times you have an idea for a product and zero insight about who you’ll sell it to.

In these cases, a DIY ‘borrowed’ customer persona comes in handy. Whatever your reasons, here’s how to do it without (hopefully) coming anywhere near bars, let alone behind them. 

In the spirit of ‘show don’t tell’, I tried and reverse engineer customer persona insights from TransferWise.


For the non-fintech heads, TransferWise is a remittance company formed in 2011 that has raised $1.1 billion so far and is profitable(unicorn junkies can start reading from here).

PS: This approach is not limited to competitor research. It’s also for consultants and freelancers who’ve asked clients for detailed customer info and heard, “um, do you really need that?” (or they take 3 years to get it to you). If so, this might be useful.

First stop:

Website testimonials

While a well-written testimonial can do wonders for the conversion rate of a website, it is the perfect place for customer snoopers to hang out. TransferWise even made it easier by using video testimonials (yep! thank you).

Video testimonials are valuable in this type of research because people reveal more over verbal communication compared to the written word. The first testimonial is from Ejiro,  an African living in Canada.

Testimonial 1-Leaving home

Here’s everything Ejiro revealed; I’ve generalised the insights to represent a whole segment.

What to look forGeneralised Insights
Customer identificationMigrants living in developed countries sending money back home (developing nations).
FrustrationsSlow transactions in banks, high cost and complicated money transfer processes.
Money recipientParents (she mentioned telling her mom about skiing for the first time-mom plays an important role in her life so she probably sends her money ).
What does the customer value?Transparency (she mentions checking the rates severally).
Customer behaviourIndulges in tourist activities in the new country, e.g. skiing (this can be used to find topics suitable for creating top of funnel content).

How does this translate into action?

Hypothetically, if anyone was launching a product targeting this persona, they’d have to ensure the marketing message mentioned transparency, their pain points: slow transactions, high costs, and family.

 ‘By the time your local bank teller is back from their coffee break, our service will have put more money in your family’s account at a cheaper cost.’ 

Maybe that’s too much, but you get the idea.

Additionally, these insights give you a place to start when creating top of funnel content, e.g.topics related to living as a migrant (TransferWise already has this content).

Testimonial 2-Imports

The second testimonial represents customers in the b2b niche. It’s a business selling dungarees in the UK and sourcing them from a manufacturer in India. Their major struggle was finding a way of paying their suppliers across the borders.

Insights gleaned:

What to look forGeneralised Insights
Customer identificationSmall and medium-sized enterprises paying suppliers in other countries. (India in this case).
What does the customer value?Persona wants the recipient to get as much money from the transaction as possible. (this can be used in advertising messaging).
FrustrationsHigh cost and complexity of current systems.
Customer behaviourCompares currency exchange rates of various service providers 

How do these turn into action?

We’ve learnt that businesses which import products/raw materials for reselling make up this segment. From a marketing perspective, what problems do these types of businesses face? How can you make use of this knowledge to create top of funnel content and build a presence in the communities where these types of businesspeople spend time?

Platforms like Quora and Anwer the Public are great in this discovery process.

Furthermore, we’ve learnt that this persona takes their time to compare different companies’ exchange rates. How do you use that insight? Perhaps a comparison tool that compares the rates from different competitors would be enough.

Upon further digging, I discovered that TransferWise has exploited this opportunity well with a variety of tools; a currency converter and an exchange rate tracker. This is ‘marketing through engineering 101’ (sorry marketers, a 3,000 word SEO optimised article is not the only way to get it done-engineers might be coming for your j…ahem!).

Testimonial 3- Chasing Dreams

The third testimonial represents individuals who’ve left their home country to chase a dream; whether that’s travelling to see the world, sing Opera, learn Muay Thai, chase a dream job…the list is long.

What to look forGeneralised Insights
Customer identification Migrants from America to Europe-travellers looking to see the world.
Frustrations High transaction costs
Unique customer behaviourUses review sites to decide between competitors- is sceptical of companies that claim low prices.

How does this translate to action?

Since the persona is sceptical of companies that claim low prices (they use review sites to make buying decisions because they trust neutral parties more),  anyone designing a product for them would now know to include features that ensure price transparency throughout the buyer journey. 

Additionally, including links to customer reviews (those that mention price) on a sales page, or screenshots of a mock transaction showing every cost, could help elevate this persona’s concerns. 

Knowing the role of review sites in this customer segment’s buying journey, a new entrant in this space would know to put together a strategy for building relationships with popular review sites to ensure their brand is in every one of them. 

TransferWise seems to have done this well (it might have happened organically for them, but a new company might have to reach out to these sites to get noticed).

Testimonial 4-East to West

This persona has similarities to the first and third persona above; a migrant moving from their home country to work in another and sends money back home to family. 

Insights gleaned:

What to look forGeneralised Insights
Customer identificationMigrants from Southeast Asia to Europe sending money back home-probably to family.
Possible recipientBrother in college (there’s a chance that the money is sent to parents on behalf of the brother).
What does the customer value?Ease of use (depositing money) and transparency (seeing a breakdown of everything).
Unique customer behaviourThere is a possibility this persona sends money to people through an intermediary (mentions supporting his brother in college but talks about sending money to parents).

How can you translate this into action?

According to the United Nations 2019 International Migrant Stock report, 3 out of every four international migrants were of working age. They’re sending money back home, so digging into their challenges, mannerisms and motivations would be valuable to companies in the industry. How do they send money home? For what purposes? 

Answers to these questions would require deeper research but would be a great foundation for product positioning, marketing messaging, content topics etc. if I was a business looking to launch in the sector. 

Another thing we learn is that migrants sending money home might send it to an intermediary first. A unique dynamic in countries where the youth might not have bank accounts and have to depend on parents to receive money on their behalf.

This information is also useful to people designing complementary solutions for countries with high remittance receipts but low financial services penetration among specific demographics.

College Students are a gold mine

This persona sends money to a brother in college, and college students drive a ton of international money transfer activity. For instance,  according to the  2019 Open Doors Report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 62% of America’s international student’s funding comes from sources outside the US. 

Is that significant? Well, the US Department of Commerce pegged the contribution of international students to the US economy at $45 billion dollars in 2018. From tuition money to living expenses, this segment transacts and does so regularly.

Evidence of which is an entire category dedicated to this group on TransferWise’s blog; an indicator of their importance. 

For smaller startups looking for smaller niches to get into, this might be a useful strategy to adopt; study the industry giants and see how they’ve divided their customers. Is there a customer segment that’s not high on their priority list that you could bring something different?

It’s always easy to look at an existing company and marvel at their genius in identifying and dominating a small niche. However, it’s only through observation and breaking down the actions of existing companies that you’ll be able to spot ignored niches. 

Think  Beats by Dre headphones aligning their marketing with sports & entertainment niches, Bonobos and men’s pants, LinkedIn and salespeople (“you got 15 minutes for a call?…(nop!)).

Lessons from what is missing

You can often learn a lot from what someone chooses not to mention, like a door-to-door electronics salesman not mentioning at least a year’s warranty in their pitch? 

In TransferWise’s case, I saw nothing significant on the home page targeting large corporate b2b transactions. My guess is this segment might not be that high on their priority list or their method of acquisition for this segment is outbound-where they can email relevant pages to prospects.

However, with 47.6% of their web traffic being direct (I assume most direct visitors type in the homepage address), this might be a missed opportunity. 

Data from Similar Web

Whatever industry we’re in, we can always spot opportunities by looking for what is missing or hidden in a company’s website. Whether you’re a competitor or a partner, there’s always a diamond in the dirt.

Case Studies

Case studies are hives of customer insights, and this is where TransferWise featured its b2b clients that were missing from the homepage: giving us a glimpse into a unique customer archetype. Again, I’ll generalise insights from one customer to a bigger group.

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Significance of studying case studies

The beauty of case studies featuring corporate clients is the ease of expanding the profile to discover similar businesses/niches that might need similar solutions. Here’s an example:

Alternative Airlines Case Study.

Alternative airlines is a booking platform for hard to find flights; a middleman between airlines and travellers looking for flights.

This persona quality can be expanded to any sector where there’s an intermediary between international customers and service providers, e.g. marketplaces like Upwork, Alibaba and Wayfair; travel agencies, logistics companies, shipping lines and religious mission organisations.

 In all these cases, the main pain points include cross-border transactions fees that balloon with high-volume transactions, slow payments etc., a staple of TransferWise’s solution.

This insight proved true as I continued through the site and kept noticing other customers in the same customer archetype group (platforms that bring together buyers and sellers from different countries), from Legal Vision, a company that connects people with lawyers to Tiroche for buying art from international artists.

Since high international money transfer fees hurt the most when these type of companies scale, TransferWise’s marketing strategy might involve targeting them when they’re growing the most; indicators might include companies that have recently fundraised or those ramping up hiring.


An active blog can tell a lot about a company, from the tone of voice to the amount of jargon used. However, when analysing companies with hundreds of blog pages, combing through every article is not for everybody.

A great alternative is using blog categories, they are a great indicator of a company’s customer segments/sub-segments. For instance, a quick glance at TransferWise’s blog categories and you’ll know international property buyers (particularly across Europe) are a big segment of theirs.

They were among the earliest adopters of the company’s product as is evident in the screenshot below.

This a conversation from an online forum back in 2011 when the company was still new. Notice the scepticism about the low fees?

9 years later, because TransferWise understands this sceptical persona segment, they’ve addressed it with Testimonial 3 above featuring a person who was also sceptical about low prices claims but still chose TransferWise. That’s why understanding your customer persona is valuable.

Here’s a summary of the customer persona insights from TransferWise’s blog. 

  1. Freelancers withdrawing, sending and receiving money from various platforms/people in multiple countries.
  2. Individuals/companies buying properties in Europe across borders.
  3. Businesses expanding their operations internationally.
  4. Travellers/free spirits travelling across the world following their dreams.
  5. Small scale ‘netpreneurs’ selling products on marketplaces (eBay, Amazon etc.)


For any person doing this kind of research, whether it’s a startup snooping on an incumbent or a consultant that needs to quickly understand a client’s audience, this is just the foundation of building a customer persona. You’ll do better by going deeper; find and talk to people fitting these archetypes, connect with them on social and learn as much as possible.

Enjoyed this article? Here’s a behind the scenes look at Monzo’s Content Marketing Strategy (Reverse Engineered). If you want to talk content, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Disclaimer (the going to jail thing): The author’s knowledge of the law goes as far as watching the show Suits (didn’t even finish all the episodes). The information provided on this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this article are for general informational purposes only. 

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