Want to know how fast disruption happens? Look at N26. This Berlin-based challenger bank has been around since 2013, after longtime friends Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal co-founded it. Back then, Number 26, as it was then known, was little more than an app interface for Wirecard.
But in 2016, it rebranded to N26, won a banking licence, and became one of the first mobile banks, landing in the UK in 2018. There were early challenges, with a withdrawal-limiting fair-use policy angering German customers, but only a few years on and N26 now has a valuation of $2.7 billion and 3.5 million customers – and is set to add plenty more as it launches in the US, where it is sure to blow the minds of Americans still amazed by contactless payments.
As the UK’s big challenger banks – Monzo, Revolut, Starling and N26 – continue to grow in popularity, we’re reviewing the services they provide to bring you a comprehensive view of their usability. This includes their features, account types and security practices.
Consumer Account Services
N26 has all of the key features we’ve come to expect with challenger banks: fast, paperwork-free application, instant payment notifications, spending categories and automatic analysis, and sub-accounts to use as savings pots, though the standard accounts are limited to just two. While Monzo has a host of other features, N26 keeps it simple, meaning it lacks challenger bank wizardry such as gambling spending controls, IFTTT integration, automatic roundups for savings.
However, N26 also lacks essentials like setting up and managing a standing order, though direct debits are now supported, and has no overdraft or other loans on offer in the UK. That’s a bit of a disappointment, as challenger banks should at least be able to offer the same in-app as legacy banks do in-branch.
That said, N26 has a few features that aren’t found commonly elsewhere. To start, unlike other challenger banks, N26 has a website you can visit with your computer, rather than only an app. In the app, you can hide away your balance for a little more discretion. N26 is also set to offer Shared Spaces, a joint version of its sub accounts, handy for splitting bills between roommates or saving up between partners – of course, everyone will need an N26 account to take part, so how useful that is depends on how many of your friends and family you can convince to sign up for an account.
Even if the feature list doesn’t convince, micromobility fans may find the first N26 partner deal intriguing. Lime fans can get a 50 per cent discount on all bike and scooter rides for the rest of 2019 if they use N26 as their payment card. That’s worth a free bank account for frequent riders.
There are three versions of the N26 account. The first, the standard, has no monthly fee and includes free card payments in any currency and withdrawals from any bank machine in the UK. The N26 You account costs £4.90 a month for an annual membership, but also includes free foreign currency withdrawals (as well as other features in the app and a pretty pink card). For £14.90 a month, the N26 Metal adds additional customer support, LoungeKey for airport lounge access, travel and purchase insurance, and “exclusive” partner deals.
For frequent travellers, upgrading to ‘N26 You’ may be worth the extra £4.90 a month, as the mid-tier account offers free withdrawals worldwide, in addition to the free Eurozone withdrawals on the basic account. For another tenner a month, N25 Metal includes free global withdrawals, as well as medical travel insurance, discounted access to some airport lounges, and dedicated phone support – as well as your choice of three colours of metal cards, the new way to signal wealth, or at least that you’ve got an extra £14.90 to spare a month.
- N26 fees explained
- N26 offers three accounts: a free current account, with free card payments in any currency; N26 You for £4.90 a month, which adds free ATM withdrawals globally; and N26 Metal, which for £14.90 a month adds purchase protection, LoungeKey access, and travel insurance. N26 charges standard account users 1.7% for non-GBP cash withdrawals; that’s free for the paid-for accounts.
Business Account Services
N26 offers a business account but so far it’s not available in the UK. N26 Business isn’t designed for businesses, despite the name. Instead, it was created for freelancers and the self-employed. Alongside the standard customer features, the freelancer-friendly edition includes 0.1% cashback on all purchases and the ability to tag your transactions for easier organisation.
Another feature in the works is the business version of Shared Spaces, a sub account that lets business partners manage funds together – sort of like a joint account for co-founders or collaborators. Beyond that, features and tools are light: there’s as yet no receipt scanning or expenses tracking, or integration with accounting apps, though your transactions can be exported into a standard spreadsheet format. On the positive side, it’s free to use with no minimum deposit, with the same upgrade pricing tier as the standard accounts.
Building a card for freelancers is a smart idea, and instant notifications that a client has paid will bring a smile to the face of anyone self-employed, but there’s actually not much difference between the standard account and the business version.
How good is the app?
Logging into the N26 app requires typing in a full password, rather than a short PIN, and is a bit slower to load than rivals. Those two facts combined mean opening the app for a quick balance check takes precious seconds more than expected.
Because N26 is shorter on features than some rivals, it’s also much easier to navigate – you won’t get lost in this app, and everything is simple to find. Setting up a Space to save money genuinely only takes only a few clicks, and once in place, you can drag-and-drop money over into your savings pot.
The app handily has a live map of local ATMs, and will blur out your bank balance if you want a bit of discretion. N26 has clean design and is simple to navigate, but that’s of course easier to achieve with fewer features.
What about security?
As with other challenger banks, instant notifications let you know if your card’s been nicked and used, and it’s easy to freeze (and unlock) cards that go missing (or are later found). Plus, it’s simple to turn off withdrawals, limit spending in settings, and there’s support for fingerprint logins.
As there’s also a website, N26 requires a full password rather than a four-digit PIN. However, that password was saved in the Chrome browser, which means anyone with access to the laptop can slip into the bank account, too. Depending on your personal threat model, it may be worth removing that auto-fill option from your browser.
N26 offers a bug bounty run by HackerOne to encourage security researchers to pay it attention, which is a smart move on the banks part. N26 is protected by the German financial authorities, covering up to €100,000, about the same as the UK protection of £85,000, in case any of your money goes missing or the company goes bankrupt.
N26 lacks some of the whizzy features offered by rival challenger banks, as well as increasingly included by incumbent legacy banks, too. It’s not clear why you’d switch away from a legacy bank with a decent app for N26, or why you’d choose it over a rival challenger bank. That said, for those overwhelmed by the constant new features on show at the likes of Monzo, N26 could be a simpler option to dip your toe into modern banking.
The freelance-friendly N26 Business card is handy for those starting out in self-employment, letting new contractors set up a business account easily and at no cost. Travellers may like the options for paid-for accounts, but it’s worth costing it all out – travel insurance and access to airport lounges may not be worth £178 a year. All that said, if you’re a Lime fan, this is the card for you – at least until that discount offer expires, anyway.
Looking for other challenger banks? See our Monzo review to see how the service compares
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