A quick review of mobile banking apps & the future of fintech
There’s a hot race in Europe between incumbent banks and fintech startups to capture the biggest possible share of digital native clients (think Millennials & Gen Z).
Their goal is to secure a dominant position at the end of the transition period from the traditional brick and mortar model to a mobile only business model.
Since I’ve been following closely the evolution of fintech in Europe for quite some time and I’ve been recently a customer of several banks, I wanted to share with you a comparison of 5 mobile banking experiences ranked on several qualities, followed by some thoughts on the future of fintech.
These are the 5 contenders:
N26. A German fintech bank backed by venture capital investors from Europe (Redalpine, Earlybird), USA (Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures), China (Horizon Ventures), as well as big corporations like Tencent Holdings and Allianz X.
Santander. The largest Spanish banking institution in the world, currently the 5th largest bank of Europe and the 16th worldwide.
BBVA. A multinational Spanish banking group and the second largest bank of Spain.
EVO. A small Spanish bank recently acquired by Bankinter this September.
Design, aesthetics & functionality
N26 offers a simple, clean and beautiful design with attention to the smallest detail that’s both highly functional and aesthetically pleasing. You can easily find everything you need.
Revolut also bolsters a very clean and beautiful design, but it also offers some unique features like analytics, virtual cards and cryptocurrencies.
EVO has a design that has evolved to resemble the first two in some regards, but it still holds too many useless features that it should probably let go. The screens look cluttered and its emphasis on the black color doesn’t help too.
BBVA has a design that hasn’t evolved much for quite some time. Its main faults are having way too many features you rarely use, and cluttered screens with probably too much information at once and graphics for everything.
Santander has the oldest looking app from all five and it also probably has more features than you need. The design is a little bit cleaner than BBVA’s, and it also has some interesting personalization options at the home screen.
Both Revolut and N26 have apps that perform very well, with smooth transitions between screens and fast loading (pretty much only when you open the app). Revolut takes first position as it’s slightly faster than N26.
EVO sits quite in the middle in terms of performance, as it’s clearly slower than the first two, but it’s also faster and works better than the two below.
Santander and BBVA are consistently the apps with the worst performance, with many screens that need to load. This is probably as a result of packing way too much features and options on their mobile apps.
Opening a bank account
Revolut offers the easiest and fastest experience when it comes to opening a new bank account.
N26 is a close second, as you must make a live videocall to verify your ID, which takes more time. That said, the experience was fun and the person who I chatted with did a great job.
Santander offers way too many different account options to choose from, the process is WAY longer… and they make you wait for up to 48h to be able to have a fully operative account. Some simplification is clearly needed.
I didn’t include EVO and BBVA in this ranking because I couldn’t make a fair comparison.
SEPA bank transfer
Both EVO and N26 offer a smooth and easy bank transfer experience. My preference is for the first as I like to be able to see and introduce all the data in one screen from the beginning.
Santander and BBVA are very similar in this regard, both offering far too many options when the only thing you want is to make a simple bank transfer. That said, Santander only takes 24 hours to transfer the money, compared to BBVA that usually takes 48 hours.
Revolut sits on the bottom because even as the experience they offer is similar to N26, you have to add someone on your contacts before you can make a transfer. It also makes you search and add the BIC/SWIFT code, even when having the IBAN is enough to make a SEPA bank transfer.
In-app customer support
When it comes to customer support, N26 clearly sits at the top. They have low waiting lines to chat with an agent, they offer customer support in 5 different languages, and they actually solved my requests very quickly. I must add that it was a pleasure interacting with them every time.
Revolut also have low waiting time to chat with an agent, they solved my requests timely and they were quite nice too.
Santander surprised me as I started chatting with an agent right away. That said, their chat doesn’t work very well (specially notifications) and they left my request unsolved. The agent was remarkably cold, made me feel like she didn’t care about my issue and she closed the chat without giving any notice.
With BBVA it took forever to chat with an agent, and when I finally got the chance, I was left with an empty promise to solve the issue another day.
EVO simply doesn’t offer to chat with an agent, only with a (very clumsy) bot.
An “honorable” mention
I also was a customer of CaixaBank. I didn’t include it on comparison because it’s been a while since I closed my account, because their mobile app is the worst banking app I’ve ever used, and because of their terrible banking service full of sneaky practices and hidden fees for literally everything.
This doesn’t mean some of the banks above don’t have their fair share of questionable practices, but CaixaBank is on a level of its own.
N26 and Revolut both offer a great service and banking experience, and their fast customer growth is probably a sign that they are on the right direction to conquer the market.
EVO, like most small banks with a traditional background, struggles to compete with the big banks, while at the same time is trying hard to catch up with its digital native competitors.
Santander and BBVA clearly need to up their game and improve asap. Santander is still trying to build a better solution inhouse, while BBVA is probably following a better strategy by buying its way to the future with international fintech acquisitions like Simple (USA), Holvi (Finland), Openpay (Mexico) and a 40% stake on Atom Bank (UK).
In theory, all the stablished banks have the resources to build a great product and to offer a service that’s as good as what the fintech startups can offer, yet the reality shows us otherwise (and it’s hard to believe this will change).
My prediction is that once older generations of clients start to disappear and the fintech banks continue to build brand awareness and a bigger customer base, it would be too late for the incumbents that haven’t bought their way out to stay alive. I believe this is going to happen sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, in this transition period, customers can take advantage of the different benefits you can get from all the available options on the market.