Many of us are not too keen on banks at the moment, and particularly since the recession. I know of many expats who find banking in Spain a trial that has to be endured. Long queues, indifferent service, as well as high charges often make the Spanish banking experience unappealing, and with little attention to the needs of their customers. Both banks that used to operate in the village where I live have closed their branches, leaving many villagers who do not own a car with little choice, but to use the infrequent bus service to the nearest town. There is good news on the horizon, and I suspect that things will change for the better in the not too distant future.
New banks are springing up in many countries. These are app based banks that operate using a smartphone and the Internet. They have no branches and no reams of paperwork to sign. They offer a basic current banking account operated from a distance. They issue a debit card that can be used in cash dispensers in all countries and, best of all, there are no charges.
With Brexit, the new reality for expats is that banking facilities operating throughout Europe may become even more difficult. Most, if not all, British banks are now refusing to open accounts for expats with addresses outside the UK. I have received a number of complaints from expats living in Greece who are finding that difficulties with the Greek banking system are forcing them to seek alternatives in order to reliably receive their British pensions. Sadly, offshore accounts now seem to be the only alternative, since British High Street banks no longer wish to help.
One newcomer to the world of expat banking is an app based bank (operating on iPhones and Android smartphones) called ‘Revolut’, which may help to solve some of these issues for expats. Although not strictly a 'bank', Revolut offers a new approach to banking with an emphasis upon providing international low cost banking facilities for expats from all countries, which will help to overcome the increasingly restrictive banking services across Europe. Billed as ‘A Global Money App’, this ‘bank’ is quickly becoming much more, and rapidly moving into offering current accounts, as well as finance. A Revolut account includes a Mastercard debit card, currency exchange and currently charges no fees for most of its services. I particularly like the use of interbank rates for currency exchange. Opening an account is quick and simple too, although they are very fussy about verifying your identity, which is probably a good thing. In my opinion, this account is the closest that expats can get to banking perfection, since transfers from a home UK bank account to top up local funds is quick, simple and cheap. Account holders can withdraw up to 200 euros a month without charge from local ATMs, although a small charge applies after the monthly allowance is exceeded. I am using this account regularly nowadays and highly recommend it. For more information, go to: https://revolut.com Another app based bank, which is well worth looking at is Monese. Expats can open an account with Monese in under three minutes Users must have a government based ID document, such as a passport to use the app. Customers can use their overseas address and usual mobile phone number without difficulty. The bank charges a monthly fee of £4.95, and in return customers receive a Visa debit card to use in local shops as well as to withdraw cash in their local currency from most ATMs. Full banking facilities, such as direct debits, standing orders, pension credits and all that you would expect from a traditional High Street bank are provided, but without the hassle. The first month is free of charge to allow customers to test the service.
A similar account, operating in euros only, is offered by N26, which is a bank based in Germany and regulated and protected by the German Bundesbank, which is the broad equivalent of the UK’s financial regulatory authority. The opening process took exactly eight minutes by video call from my smartphone to confirm my identity. A very helpful lady took me through the process; they took a photo of my passport and me. A few days later, a MasterCard debit card arrived though the post, which I can use in Spain and the Canary Islands, as well as worldwide in the usual way, and there are no charges for drawing out cash from cash dispensers either.
There are other app based banks currently at the developmental stage. I particularly wanted a bank that operated in pounds and euros, as well as being protected by a state regulatory authority. The banks that I have mentioned, as with other new start up banks, intend to offer joint accounts, credit cards, deposit and savings accounts, loans and overdrafts, insurance and other services once their basic service is established.
My new accounts can be used to make payments by direct debit, receive funds as well as processing all the other transactions that I currently make from my Spanish bank account. Being a cautious Brit when it comes to legal and financial matters, I am going to use the account for shopping and cash withdrawals, before I plunge headlong into completely transferring my account. However, these early days tell me that queuing in a bank branch waiting to see if someone can be bothered to attend to me are long gone. Gone too are the endless sheets of meaningless paper. Welcome to the new banking experience!
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.