Simon Fawson 14 Jun 2018

I care about wasting money whether it's my company's, a client's, or my own (... but particularly when it's my own). So I get more than a little irritated when I get bank or card statements after a trip and see ATM charges (£2 to get €100 - why?) along with exchange rates that seem to bear little resemblance to those published. Yes, I know that there's a buy and a sell rate and, yes, I know that it costs money for banks and other operators to manage and transfer money, but come on. And don't get me started on airport exchange desks or high street exchanges in the UK or abroad.

I've tried several ways of minimising what I perceive to be unreasonable costs associated with business or holiday travel including debit cards and prepaid cards and, even, wodges of dollars when travelling to South America in the days of hyper inflation. So I was very happy to be an early user of SWAPX when I heard about how it works. 

It's a peer-to-peer model: I've got something (£s) and I need something (€s); someone else has  €s and needs £s. We should get together and, in summary, that's what SWAPX does. You load the card with £s (with a 1% loading fee) and, when you're good and ready, you change some or all of that into €s. In the current model you don't know who you're exchanging with and, to be honest, you don't care. (I believe there are options on the horizon for specifying who you exchange with, eg family members or business colleagues.) And what is really nice about this is the rate. You get the mid point of the buy and sell rates less a small commission to SWAPX. I've just checked and right now (0800 on 5 June 2018) £400 will get you  €451 on SWAPX (taking account of the 1% £ loading fee), €445 at the Post Office, € 446 at Travellex and  €437 at Lloyds Bank. And if you don't bother getting Euros ahead of time, simply use your UK debit or credit card and let the bank sort out the exchange ... who knows but certainly very much worse than any of these deals. 

And that's not all. It's a card, so you don't need to worry about carrying a lot of cash around. It's a MasterCard, so it's accepted everywhere. Just remember that if you're buying something in Euros you should always select the option to pay in Euros rather than Sterling. And if you want to use a currency other than £s or €s? Well. it's clever there too. At present you can only have Sterling or Euro wallets on your card, although I believe there are plans for other currency wallets. But if you want to buy something in a different currency simply select the 'pay in Sterling' option and you'll get SWAPX's sensible rate rather than, say, your bank's.

I've used both options. I used SWAPX in Spain, swapping Sterling for Euros as and when needed and then using the card in Euros. And I used it in Croatia where I used it as a Sterling card and got a rate to the Kuna that bettered by more than 5% rates I saw advertised in Dubrovnik.

So win win. And, in passing, it's a great way to keep track of your spending since everything is very clearly laid out on your dashboard, which is accessible via an internet browser or Apple/Android apps. I can only think of one downside, which is that it does take some time for your Sterling load to become available. SWAPX advises up to two working days but my experience is that it's less than one (including weekends). But it does make sense to have an alternative source of finance to cover unexpected eventualities. And also do remember that it's a debit card so, like all debit cards, you can't use it for car hire. 

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