The number of mobile-only banking apps on offer has exploded in recent years. Moneywise looks at six popular apps and highlights the pros and cons of each
Mobile banking apps are a great way to manage your money on the go. Most traditional banks offer them, allowing you to make payments and check your balance. But in addition, a flurry of mobile-only banking apps have recently launched, often going beyond what conventional banks offer.
Some slash the cost of spending abroad, while others update you on your purchases in real time or allow you to segment your outgoings to see where your money is going.
While some people choose to complement their primary bank account with a mobile-only banking app, others are happy to ditch their traditional account altogether.
Apps are designed to be intuitive and easy to use. But there are other important considerations beyond whizzy features, including deposit protection, charges and fees for using the card abroad.
Listed here are six apps that are primarily current-account-style money-managing apps. Monzo, N26 and Starling are fully-fledged current accounts, while Loot, Monese and Revolut work as prepaid cards.
All of these apps are available for free on Android and iPhone. Where apps have more than one price plan, we focus on the free plan.
Loot was set up by founder Ollie Purdue in 2014 with a view to helping students and young people to better manage their money. The company recently received a £2 million investment from RBS in exchange for a 25% stake in the firm.
Charges: Two free ATM withdrawals a month, then £1 per withdrawal. No other charges.
Good abroad? No fees for card transactions and uses the Mastercard interbank exchange rate (to check daily rates, visit Mastercard.co.uk). Withdrawal limits are the same as in the UK.
Moneywise likes: Loot also has a web app version, so if you lose your phone you can access your cash on a computer.
FSCS protection? No.
Please note since this article was first written Loot has gone into administration. Find out more in our news story.
Monese was created by founder Norris Koppel when he moved to the UK from his native Estonia and found it impossible to open a bank account without a UK credit history or utility bill. Monese, therefore, markets itself as being very easy to join and could be a great option for newcomers to the UK in need of banking services.
Charges: Monese has three pricing points that vary the charges for certain services. Here is how the free starter price plan works: £1 for ATM withdrawals; 2% fee on foreign exchange with a £2 minimum fee; 0.35% fee for accounts top-ups; 2% fee (or £2 minimum charge) for cash top-ups at the Post Office; and 3.5% fee (or £2 minimum charge) for PayPoint cash top-ups.
Good abroad? Uses the Mastercard interbank exchange rate, but can be expensive once you include the charges mentioned above.
Moneywise likes: Monese doesn’t require you to have proof of a UK address or a good credit history to open an account, making it very easy to access.
FSCS deposit protection? No.
Monzo is perhaps the most high-profile account on this list, and not just because of its brightly coloured ‘hot coral’ debit cards. The bank has seen meteoric growth in recent times and famously achieved one of the fastest-ever rounds of crowdfunding from its own customers – £20 million in less than three hours.
Charges: No fees for day-to-day use of its pre-paid card. The overdraft costs 50p a day for being overdrawn by £20 or more, up to a maximum of £15.50 a month.
Good abroad? Withdraw £200 cash from ATMs abroad for free, then 3% fee charged above this.
Moneywise likes: Monzo has very handy breakdowns of the areas you are spending money on such as groceries, eating out or shopping, making it easy to see if you are overspending on certain things.
FSCS deposit protection? Yes. Monzo is a UK-licensed bank.
N26 only arrived in the UK in 2018, but has offered banking services on mainland Europe since 2015. The German bank already boasts more than 2.5 million customers.
Charges: N26 has three price points for its pre-paid card. The free plan charges are: 1.7% fee on cash withdrawals abroad; and if your card is lost or stolen, you get one free card replacement a year, then will be charged £6 for subsequent replacements.
Good abroad? The free account’s fee of 1.7% for cash withdrawals abroad is pricey when compared to others on this list, but it offers the Mastercard interbank exchange rate. Card payments abroad do not incur charges. The monthly payment options may not be worth the fee, depending on how often you need to use foreign exchange.
Moneywise likes: N26 offers customisable payment and withdrawal limits, a handy way to control your spending if you tend to go over your budget. However, savings pots are not available on the free version.
FSCS deposit protection? N26 is not covered by the FSCS. However, it is protected by the German banking compensation scheme up to €100,000 (around £85,000).
Revolut started out with a focus on foreign currency exchange and management, and has since grown to offer a range of services within its app. The firm has recently suffered a slew of negative headlines, which the firm’s founder Nikolay Storonsky blames on the difficulties of growing the business at such a rapid pace.
Charges: Revolut offers three price plans to reflect its varying services. The free plan charge is: ATM withdrawals free up to £200/€200, then a 2% fee above this.
Moneywise likes: The ability to hold multiple accounts with different currencies. This is very handy if you travel a lot and have to use money from other countries regularly.
Good abroad? Revolut offers the interbank exchange rate “during FX market hours”. Outside these times, major currencies such as pounds, euros and dollars are charged a 0.5% transaction fee. Other less commonly used currencies are charged at 1%, while Thai baht, Russian roubles and Ukrainian hryvnia are charged at 2%.
FSCS deposit protection? No.
Starling Bank was founded by chief executive Anne Boden who, with years of experience working in banking, decided that none of the older banks could offer what customers wanted. Starling now offers a range of services from joint accounts to business banking.
Charges: No charges other than if you take out an overdraft, which is charged at 15% EAR (Equivalent Annual Rate).
Good abroad? Starling Bank’s debit card is a Moneywise best buy because it does not charge for card spending or withdrawals abroad.
Moneywise likes: Starling has developed a ‘marketplace’ within the app to offer other products and services such as insurance, saving and investing and even a mortgage broker.
FSCS deposit protection? Yes.
Is your money protected?
People tend to hold less cash in a current than a savings account. However, since many mobile banking apps have savings pot features to allow you to squirrel away cash, people could be saving larger amounts. This means knowing whether your money is protected if something goes wrong is crucial.
Of the apps we’ve looked at Monzo and Starling offer full Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protection. Any bank with FSCS protection guarantees deposits up to £85,000 are protected should it go bust. N26 offers a similar protection under the German scheme.
The others are what are called E-money accounts, which are regulated by the city watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, and protect customer deposits in one of two ways:
The first option is to put your deposits in a third-party bank that does have FSCS protection, so the banking app provides the technology but does not actually hold your money. Should the underlying bank fail, customer deposits would be protected by the FSCS. However, if the banking app fails, deposits may not be.
The second option is these providers can take an insurance policy or guarantee on the clients’ money, so if they were to fail as a business, the money would be protected.
‘Budgeting on holiday is essential for me’
Jon Proctor, a 29-year-old consultant from Sheffield, uses Starling Bank particularly when he travels abroad.
He says: “What I like about Starling is that it doesn’t charge me for overseas transactions whereas my other bank, Halifax, does.
“I’ve had three holidays abroad recently, so it was really important I budgeted carefully.
“I find topping up the card as I go is a good way of monitoring my spending on holiday, plus the app gives live notifications reminding me of my balance.
“On my last holiday with a group of friends, I could still buy a round of drinks without having the cash for the kitty because Starling doesn’t charge for card transactions and the exchange rate is really fair.
“One drawback, though, is that I wish there was an option to top up less than £50. Often you are left with surplus in the card that you forget about.”