NatWest launches new digital bank Bó, but is it any good?

28 November 2019

The new bank is targeting younger customers who are increasingly switching to rivals such as Monzo and Starling

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NatWest has launched a new digital bank to rival the likes of Monzo and Starling.

Bó is a digital, cloud-based bank that comes with a bright yellow debit card and a mobile app that tracks debit card spending.

Challenger banks are growing in popularity with many people looking to switch accounts from the big high street players.

The new breed of app-based banks such as Monzo and Starling offer a host of features that appeal to younger customers, such budgeting tools or fee-free spending abroad.

In response, traditional high street banks such Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC have been adding challenger-style features to their apps.

Chief executive of Bó, Mark Bailie, says: “As we’re part of NatWest, people can rely on Bó to keep their money safe. But as a digital bank, built entirely on a separate cloud-based technology, Bó is also able to harness new technology and develop rapidly in line with our customers’ needs and expectations.

“With Bó we have an opportunity to help address a genuine societal need and to be a positive force in our customers’ lives. Our aim is to transform the nation’s attitudes and behaviour around money and I’m hugely excited to see what we can achieve.”

What features does it have?

Currently, you can only open a personal account, which can be done by downloading the app to your phone.

The account works as a second account to your main current account, allowing you to track your spending each month.

You can only add money to your account by bank transfer from another account. This means you cannot pay your salary into your account or use it for direct debits. Money can only be transferred using the Faster Payments scheme.

To open an account you must be 18 or over and a UK tax resident. If you are paying tax in another country you will not be eligible.

The account allows you to keep tabs on spending with instant alerts whenever you use your card and everything you buy listed by retailer, category and location.

You can also create a spending budget to help you save towards your goals and there is a piggy bank feature as well.

Fees

Cash withdrawals from ATMs in the UK, EU or anywhere else in the world are free, although you may be charged by the cash machine’s operator.

If your card is lost or damaged it will be replaced for free the first two times, after which you will be a £5 fee.

Is your money protected?

As the company is part of NatWest your money is covered by the Financial Services Compensation scheme up to £85,000.

Where can you use the debit card?

You can use the debit card anywhere in the world that Visa is accepted.

How does it compare?

While the Bó account has been launched to rival Monzo and Starling, some of its features are currently limited.

As you can’t use it for bills and direct debits, Bó essentially works the same as a prepaid card.

This is different to Monzo and Starling, which allow direct debits and your salary to be paid in.

Just like Monzo and Starling, Bó comes with a debit card which you can freeze. Bó also has similar features such as fee-free spending abroad, instant notifications and tools to help keep your eye on spending.

One of the biggest differences is that Monzo and Starling both offer overdrafts and interest on your savings, whereas Bó does not.

Starling pays a 0.5% annual rate of interest to account balances below £2,000, and 0.25% to those under £85,000.

With Monzo you can also create a savings pot with a partnered bank, earning up to 1.40% in interest.

Bó also currently only allows you to make one piggy bank account, whereas Monzo allows you to set up multiple ones to separate your money.

While Starling and Bó do not charge you fees for using your card abroad, Monzo charges you 3% on withdrawals abroad after £200.

David Clarke, head of policy at campaign group Positive Money, says: "That RBS sees an opening in the digital banking market is a sign of the failure, as well as the success, of its start-up rivals. Many had hoped that digitisation would revolutionise the banking system, with new entrants such as Monzo and Revolut finally breaking the stranglehold of the established players.

“But despite some successes, most digital bank customers still have their main account with one of the big four legacy banks, whose market share has remained largely unchanged. The highly-concentrated nature of UK commercial banking is unlikely to change without government intervention, and as a subsidiary of RBS, Bo offers little in the way of meaningful competition." 

Comments

BO is limited

You also forgot to mention that the maximum amount allowable in a Bo account is £5,000, and you cannot make payments of more than £1,000 with it. You should also point out that the debit card is flimsier than an old paper library card.

What is really interesting is that customers are being told to use a Bo account so they can get up to date info on what they spend, and where(ish). Which is a clear admission that Natwest can't do this, and probably won't be able to for some time.

I've got a Bo account and to be honest I'm really struggling to find out what it is for.

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