Getting a clue about bank wires

In which the writer reminisces about the early years of his patent firm and eventually getting a clue about how to send bank wires to foreign associates. 

Back when I started my firm, which was before I got even the beginnings of a clue about stuff like this, the way I did a foreign bank wire was to go to my bank.

Yeah, right, it turns out this is approximately the stupidest way to do a foreign bank wire.

Yet I guess that’s what a lot of people do — when they want to do a bank wire they go to their bank. Anyway in those days the way we did this was to fill out a three-page form with all of the particulars for the foreign bank wire.

As I look back on it I am astonished that I did not recoil in horror at how this worked with that particular bank. The way it worked, if we needed to send another bank wire a month later to the same foreign firm, our bank expected us simply to fill out another three-page form.  Which we stupidly did.  And somebody in the wire department of that bank hand-keyed all of the same information all over again.

As years went by I started to get a clue.  I eventually caught on that some bank wire service providers will store your beneficiaries in a list.  And so if you had somehow successfully configured things correctly for a particular beneficiary once, you did not need to worry about it the next time and the next time.

Gradually I got a bit more of a clue namely that some foreign wire service providers charge smaller fees than others.

When I was first in practice, I guess most patent firms did indeed go to their bank to do a wire transfer, and pretty much the only game in town if you wanted to be smarter about it was Reusch International.  That’s who we used, years ago.  Then in 2007, Reusch got purchased by rival Travelex.  In 2010, Travelex got purchased by Western Union.  So by now we are a customer of Western Union and we have been using them for all of the foreign bank wires that we used to run through Reusch and then through Travelex.

Meanwhile the Internet happened.  Paypal came into existence, basically as a way for people to buy stuff on eBay.  Smart phone startups launched non-bank ways of transferring money — Venmo, Square Cash, Wechat, Alipay.  The legacy bricks-and-mortar banks launched Zelle to try to compete.  But none of these systems is well suited for a patent or trademark firm that needs to wire money to a foreign patent or trademark firm.  Many of these systems work only within a single country, or charge a substantial fee for any transfer that crosses an international boundary.  Many are explicitly unavailable to businesses and are provided only to individuals.

For some years now at my firm, as I say, we have been using Western Union for our foreign bank wires.  And to receive our bank wires we have been using Wells Fargo.  Recently I looked at a monthly bank statement at Well Fargo and found that we have been nickel-and-dimed by that bank.  They have been charging us for ACH transfers (both inward and outward) that would have been free at any other bank.  They have been charging us not only for incoming bank wires but also for “repair” of incoming bank wires.  So although I was feeling pretty good about the Western Union solution for sending foreign bank wires, I decided I needed to learn more about smart ways to receive foreign bank wires.

The latest category of bank wire transfer service providers is companies like Western Union Edge and Afex.  These companies offer international money transfers that are wholly free of charge for transfers between two members of the same system.  Afex, for example, will receive incoming bank wires on your behalf free of charge.  We have opened accounts at Edge and Afex and we hope to find some firms outside the US who are using those service providers.

Do you use Edge or Afex?  How do you like it?  Please post a comment below.

2 Replies to “Getting a clue about bank wires”

  1. I started a tiny (“Micro”) IP company in 2014, having a few clients & mainly carrying out UK & European patent & registered design (design patent) work. Now, many of my clients’ applications are requiring filing overseas and thus far (as you have said) I have been paying the bills for my foreign associates via direct bank transfer from my company account. However, some of the bills are relatively small and this means that the bank charges can make up a significant portion of the costs. Up to now, I have managed to agree with my foreign associates (also small practices) to try and ‘bundle’ their invoices together to invoice a larger amount, so that the bank charges are less significant. However, this is obviously not always possible and therefore I am always on the lookout to find a better solution for payment of my foreign associates – hence my interest in your blog post. Would you recommend any particular solution for a company handling small, overseas invoices?

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