Comparing the Fintech banking companies

The last few years have seen a whole host of Fintech challenger banks pop up on the market. Most, if not all have more than a few things in common. All are app based. They all offer 0% charges when used abroad. And all offer instant spending notifications.Most offer some more premium features for a monthly fee. But which one is best? Well, I’m not a financial advisor, so I can’t answer that. What I can do however is take a look at the most popular ones so you can make a decision. All of these accounts have been opened in the UK – as such, I can’t comment as to how these will work if you’re signing up from elsewhere.

First of all, what is a fintech? 

Fintech is short for financial technology. It’s a company that aims to use innovation and technology to compete with the more traditional financial institutes.

The companies I will be looking at here are:

  • Starling Bank
  • Monzo 
  • Revolut
  • Monese
  • Curve
  • N26

You may be wondering why a travel blog is featuring bank accounts. As mentioned above, all of these accounts offer zero fees when spending abroad and are completely free to sign up to.

Therefore, if you’re heading off, they may be worth looking into. Most of these companies also offer premium accounts for an additional fee, which include travel insurance and discounted airport lounge access as perks, so this could also be worth a look for those that travel on a regular basis.

As a side note, I was unable to sign up for an N26 account – apparently I wasn’t eligible, so I won’t be speaking from personal experience when looking at them. More from an outside looking in point of view.


Starling Bank

The first of the companies I signed up to mid-2018 after seeing an advert on Twitter. In early 2019, I closed down my HSBC account and switched fully to them. I’ve had no issues with them since I signed up. Multiple award winners for the best current account in the UK.

Online banking: 
Dedicated iPad/Tablet app: 
Premium account: ❌
Paying in cash: ✅ – Post Office
Apple/Google Pay: 
Ease of signup: I’ll be honest – I don’t remember! I don’t recall any serious issues though, and I received my card within a week.
Other features: Instant spend notifications, overdraft, marketplace, round up your spare change.
Charges: None
Ease of use: Very straightforward app – probably the best of the bunch. Getting in contact with customer services via the in app chat was straightforward and quick too – even from Los Angeles!

My Thoughts:

As I was affected by the BA data breach over the summer of 2018, Starling pro-actively sent me a new card as they spotted that I’d used my existing one with the airline during the affected period. The lack of any premium features is both good and bad – good as it’s a simple to use, free bank account with no bloating. Although as all the other accounts listed here do offer a plus account, it could mean they slip behind the competition with people looking for a little more. It’s served me absolutely fine as a bill paying account though. As a bonus, Starling pay 0.5% interest on your balance at the end of each month. 

Promo Code: N/A

Further info: https://www.starlingbank.com


Monzo

Monzo is also one of the more well known companies. Much like Starling, it has a full UK banking license meaning that if it were to fail you’d be covered up to £85,000 by the FSCS. The card took 3 days to arrive after I signed up, but I was able to use my account straight away via Apple Pay.

Online banking: 
Dedicated iPad/Tablet app: 
Premium account: ✅
Paying in cash: ✅ – PayPoint (£1 fee)
Apple/Google Pay: ✅
Ease of signup: The first thing you’re asked when opening the app is to input your email address in order to get a link to sign up. Then you have to take a photo of your ID and record a video selfie to confirm your identity before your account is set up.
Other features: “Round up” feature that enables you to add your spare change to a savings pot. Instant spending notifications. Overdraft.
Charges: Free / From £6/Month for Monzo Plus
Ease of use: Fairly straightforward app to use, which is fairly polished looking and self explanatory.

My thoughts:  

Up there with Starling. Of all of the accounts I’ve signed up for, this was the only one to offer me an overdraft right out of the box, which will come in handy for the hotel pre-authorisations I’ll no doubt encounter on an upcoming trip. Not too sure about the bright orange card though! I wouldn’t be against switching to them full time. The upcoming features that have been teased with their Plus plan look appealing. Also of note is that it’s the only one of these companies that allow you to pick and choose which services you want to add on to your premium account.

Promo Code: https://join.monzo.com/r/wl4dovn

Further info: https://monzo.com


Revolut

When I switched to Starling in early 2019, I was in need of a second account for my disposable income. I chose Revolut as their metal plan looked attractive. This includes travel insurance, gadget insurance and lounge access. The downside of this account is that it isn’t a bank account quite yet. Although it was granted a European banking licence at the end of 2018. As such, it has to hold all funds in a segregated account meaning that even if the company was to dissolve it can’t use your money to pay its debts.

Online banking: 
iPad/Tablet app: 
Premium account: ✅ 
Paying in cash: 
Apple/Google Pay: ✅
Ease of signup: Much like the others, you sign up via the app and submit your ID. A few moments later everything is confirmed. When I signed up, Apple Pay wasn’t available so I had to wait until I received my physical card before I could use the account. However in June 2019 the company did introduce Apple Pay, so I’d imagine that it is now possible to use your account instantly.
Other features: Premium and metal plan include travel insurance. Metal plan includes airport lounge access.
Charges: £4.99 delivery for a standard card.
Ease of use: The app itself is a little basic looking, being a white background with blue writing – and not much in the way of graphics. It functions just fine though.

My thoughts:

I’ve had no real issues using the metal plan as a day to day spend account. Like most other accounts here, Revolut offer a round up feature allowing you to save your spare change, which in just a few months has really added up. And added bonus of the metal plan is that you earn 0.1% cashback on all purchases made within the EU and 1% on all purchases outside the EU – which again, has added up to a decent amount in the few months I’ve had it.

Promo Code: https://revolut.com/referral/jamescxob

Further info: https://www.revolut.com


Monese

Founded in 2014, Monese is probably one of the lesser known fintechs. The company seems to get fairy good reviews on Trustpilot however. Like a couple of the other companies listed here, they don’t have a banking licence. Although it’s stated on their website that your funds are stored separately therefore if the company was to fail, you wont lose out.  

Online banking: ❌
iPad/Tablet app: ❌
Premium account: 
Paying in cash: ✅ – Post Office and PayPoint (2% fee, depending on plan)
Apple/Google Pay: 
Ease of signup:  Much the same as the others. Download the app, follow the instructions and submit a photo of your ID – either your passport or a driving licence. The card arrived within 48 hours.
Other features: Earn Avios when using your card in selected retailers – basically those listed on the BA365 site.
Charges: Free, £4.95/month Classic plan,  £14.95/month Premium plan.
Ease of use: Not actually used this one yet, but the app is set out in a good enough looking blue/white scheme and I’m yet to discover any bugs or other issues with it.

My thoughts:

Probably the most basic of the bunch. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of them until I saw an advert on Facebook. After a little digging, I found that they are tied into the Avios program that means you earn when spending in selected retailers. I managed to link up my BA account with no fuss.

The one thing I find a little odd however is their premium accounts. Despite being one of the more expensive options here, you don’t seem to get an awful lot for it. No travel insurance or lounge access. What you do get is increased spending and paying in limits, which doesn’t seem like the best value to me. I’ll stick with the free account though, purely for the bonus Avios when spending out and about.

The referral bonus is very generous too – the most of all the accounts listed here, although its not overly clear whether its £10 or £15!

Promo Code: JAMES544

Further info: https://monese.com


Curve

The sponsor of this site, Curve, is a little different to the others. Rather than being a bank account or a pre paid card, it classes itself as a digital wallet. Therefore they don’t actually hold your money. Instead, you link your existing accounts and then spend using the Curve card. So really, you could sign up to all of the other accounts mentioned here and simply use just your Curve card. Even if you’re with a high street bank that does charge you the almost standard 2.75% foreign transaction fee, if you use your Curve card abroad then you will benefit from their 0% transaction fees.

Online banking: ❌
iPad/Tablet app: 
Premium account: ✅
Paying in cash: ❌
Apple/Google Pay: ❌
Ease of signup:  The signup process can be seen here:
https://www.inflightwithjames.com/post/sponsored-curve-black/
Other features: Go back in time feature – if you pay for something on the wrong card, you can reverse the charge and send it to the right card.
Charges: Free, £9.99/Month Black, £14.99/Month Metal
Ease of use: Sounds more complicated than it is! Once you’re in the app, select which account you want to pay with and use like any other account. If you do make a mistake, then you can switch the payment to another card within 14 days – a feature I have personally used without any issue.

My thoughts:

A confession – Initially I didn’t see much point to this account, and if Curve hadn’t approached me regarding sponsorship, I likely wouldn’t have signed up for one. However, since having the account, I have found myself using the Curve card more and more. While you don’t get cashback on every purchase, you do get 1% at a selection of three retailers. Or if you’re on the metal plan, you can choose six. The premium plans do offer benefits comparable to the likes of Revolut, Monzo and N26 – my recommendation is to go for a basic plan there and link it to a premium Curve plan. Which is what I will likely do with the Monese account, therefore I can earn both Avios and earn cashback. The only downside is that I’m yet to find a way to re-select your cashback partners once you’ve made your initial selection. So choose wisely!

Promo Code: INFLIGHT

Further info: https://www.curve.app/en-gb/


N26

As mentioned upthread, I cant comment too much on N26 as they wouldn’t give me an account! From the outside they appear to be similar to the others though. One thing N26 does feature that the others don’t though is online banking via their website.

Online banking: ✅
iPad/Tablet app: ❌
Premium account: ✅
Paying in cash: ❌
Apple/Google Pay: ✅
Ease of signup: The signup process didn’t seem too complicated… although I didn’t get too far until I was told no! 
Other features: Like much of this part of the review, I cant comment too much! They seem comparable to the rest though.
Charges: Free, £4.90/Month You, £14.90/Month Metal
Ease of use: As mentioned, a little difficult for me to comment in any great detail, but from what I could see of the app it looked pretty slick and well polished.

My Thoughts:

Again, difficult to say too much about N26 as they were the only one in this list to not give me an account! Goes to show how random the credit scoring process can be, considering Monzo were more than happy to throw money at me, Starling who I’ve been with for over a year still won’t give me an overdraft and N26 wouldn’t even give me a basic account.

Further info: https://n26.com/en-gb/


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