At the turn of the century, the idea of online banking and relegating all of your financial needs to the internet was unthinkable. But now, it’s inescapable. A recent J.D. Power survey found 53% of retail bank customers are using mobile banking in 2019. Unyoked from traditional brick-and-mortar stores, customers are turning to digital-first challengers that commonly promise no monthly maintenance fees or required account balances, greater transparency, and easy access to your funds through the bank’s website or mobile app. This trend started with banks like Ally, Discover, and Capital One, and now post-recession startups like Stash, N26, and Chime are gaining traction.
“At the highest level, I think consumers want convenience and a product that offers them a good price,” Nicolas Kopp, the U.S. CEO of the European bank, N26, told Reviews.com. “If you look at these two dimensions, I don’t think the needs of consumers have changed that much … [but] I think the ability that companies have to serve the needs of customers has changed drastically with technology.”
To help you get started, we looked at the many disruptors in the banking world and found five new products or trends that might convince you to switch over.
Back in March, the startup bank Stash launched its new Stock-Back rewards program. Similar to cash-back, the way it works is that every time you make a purchase with your Stash debit card, you earn a fractional share of stock from that company within your Stash Invest account. For example, if you spend money on a Target run, you’ll receive Target (TGT) Stock-Back. If the company isn’t publicly traded and available on the platform, the stock-back will go into an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks the entire world market — so you’re not missing out on rewards if you tend to shop at smaller businesses.
“As you live your life and go about your everyday spending, we think that it’s very powerful to become a shareholder in the companies and brands that you already spend money [with],” says Brandon Krieg, CEO and co-founder of Stash.
It’s worth noting that while stocks can appreciate well beyond the initial investment, this program is riskier than cash-back programs because there are no guaranteed ROIs in the market. But you could argue that’s all part of the process.
“It’s less about the monetary value [than it’s about] discovering that companies that you’re spending with already are companies that you could own, and that you could reap the benefits of dividends and financial education around the company,” Krieg says. “It’s very powerful for the consumer.”
Personalized Savings Goals
Europe’s largest online bank, N26, launched its first U.S. checking account to much fanfare in August. Promising no maintenance fees, free ATM withdrawals, and a robust but minimalist-looking app, it’s a bank tailor-made for your smartphone. One of the features we like most from N26 is Spaces, which are personalized checking sub-accounts you can use to save for specific goals.
If you keep your money in multiple checking and savings accounts, you know it usually takes two or more days for a bank to clear transfers. “At N26, we have a real-time version of that,” Kopp says.
Spaces allows you to save for multiple goals — things like an emergency fund or vacation — in one account. You’re able to create up to two Spaces, or sub-accounts, outside of the main account. Transfers between your main account and Spaces are instant and unlimited, so it’s not subject to the federal rule that limits savings account transfers and withdrawals to six per statement cycle. And within each Space, you can set a specific budget goal, like $1,000 for a laptop, and track your progress — a feature that helps customers with the mental math, Kopp says.
Not many banks could get high-profile celebrities to endorse their deposit accounts — but in August, the U.K.-based online bank and mobile payment app TransferWise released its first U.S. debit card, complete with a buzzy ad campaign starring “Queer Eye” fashion expert Tan France. The selling point: its multi-currency capabilities. International travelers know converting cash between currencies can be time-consuming — and not to mention, expensive. But TransferWise is promising lower fees and a seamless user experience.
To get started, you would need to sign up for a free TransferWise debit MasterCard, load cash into your account via the TransferWise mobile app or website, and then convert your American dollars into one of the 40 or more currencies available on the platform. To be clear, there are still variable conversion fees involved, but they’re lower than leading banks and you still won’t be charged any foreign transaction fees, monthly maintenance fees or ATM fees (up to $250 per 30 days).
Skepticism is an understandable response to the claim that you could get paid up to two days earlier than your co-workers, but this is a new feature that many online banks, such as N26, Stash, Chime, and Varo, are baking into their core services.
You probably receive your weekly or bi-weekly paycheck on Fridays, whether by check or direct deposit — but when your bank offers early direct deposit, you could receive your pay as early as Wednesday. Typically, your employer submits payroll files to the Federal Reserve to get the direct deposit process started, and from there, your bank works with the Federal Reserve to figure out when to distribute your pay to your personal account. Oftentimes, banks will wait to transfer the funds until the date your employer specifies, but with these startups, they’ll release your paycheck as soon as the notification from your employer is received. This means you may see your money before your colleagues do — a feature that makes saving easier and reduces your chance of overdrafting.
Investing Your Spare Change
Founded in 2012, Acorns is the original “spare change” company. When you sign up for an Acorns Invest account (which costs between $1 to $3 per month), it monitors purchases made on your checking account and credit card, rounds them to the nearest dollar, and invests them in your choice of five portfolios, which are comprised of ETFs and bonds of varying risk levels (“conservative” to “aggressive”).
For example, if you purchase lunch for $9.06 and a coffee for $3.87 in a day, Acorns will round up your transactions and add $1.07 to your investments from your account. We like micro-investing because it takes the guesswork out of investing and makes it accessible to the average person, who may not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the stock market. It’s no substitute for saving for your retirement, mortgage, or other large-scale goals, but it is a gateway to bigger financial moves.