N26 is an innovative fintech providing mobile-first online banking, based in Berlin Germany, but serving customers from across Europe – and soon to launching in the UK and USA as well.
I’m based in Ireland and have been an N26 customer for over a year now, and I thought I’d share my experience for anyone considering signing up.
N26 pride themselves that you can open a new current account in just 8 minutes. All you need to do is download the app, sign up for a new account, gather some ID to prove who you are (for anti-money-laundering purposes), and then the account opening will be completed through an in-app video call with one of the N26 staff.
There’s no pieces of paper to sign or documents to post to them. It works pretty seamlessly, and they appear to have put a lot of work into this on-boarding process. It’s certainly a lot more convenient than having to spend a lot of time filling in forms in the branch of your local bank!
You get your new IBAN straight away, but you do have to wait a few days for your new Mastercard Debit card to arrive from Germany – but that happens with all banks.
Beyond the sign-up process, you use the mobile app to perform all your day-to-day banking operations – although you can also use a web portal on their site.
You login using either a password or your fingerprint – and there’s an additional security measure to bind your account to a specific mobile device.
In the app you can:
- View your current balance and recent transactions
- View a statistical breakdown of your transaction by month/type
- Amend the security settings for your card, including resetting your PIN, locking the card if it’s lost or stolen (and ordering a replacement), and deciding whether your card can be used for payments abroad, online payments, and cash withdrawals
- Setting up transfers to other bank accounts
- View the location of ATMs on a map
The app will also send you an alert on your phone every time a transaction happens (unless you turn it off), or if the transaction needs an authorisation, so you can keep track of all payments in and out of your account.
Current account features
N26 will send you a Mastercard Debit cards depending on the account you have:
- N26 Free (no monthly free) – a semi-translucent card
- N26 Black (€9.90 / month) – a black card
- N26 Business (no monthly fee) – a semi-translucent card (same design as N26 Free but with “Business” written on it)
In Germany, France, Austria and Italy (and coming soon to other countries) there is also an even more premium “metal” card! (yes it’s really made out of metal)
The premium account options attract a monthly fee, but have additional features such as travel and mobile phone insurance, and lower foreign currency transaction fees. All accounts have a set number of free ATM withdrawals (normally 5 per month) after which you get charged per withdrawal, so you should bear that in mind if you use ATMs a lot.
See their pricing page for more information.
I use the free account, and I’ve got to say that the card design attracts many favourable comments. I like the fact that N26 also prints my BIC and IBAN on the back of the card – so I don’t need to login to the app to find that information.
All the accounts have chip-and-pin and NFC for tap-to-pay transactions. In Ireland there’s also support for Google Pay and Apple Pay.
N26 also partners with TransferWise to give you the best exchange rates for foreign-currency payments and transfers directly from within the N26 app.
Along with all the product innovation, there are some down-sides to having your current account entirely online and based in a different country:
- There are no branches to visit. If you need help with something that’s not covered within the app then you can either use the in-app chat or telephone one of their support reps – but they don’t yet support video conferencing, despite using it for account signup. Also the support lines are only available 9am – 6pm (German time) Monday to Saturday.
- There have no means to accept or issue cheques. Most of the time that’s not an issue, as most people have now moved to electronic payments – but some organisations still issue cheques in the post or demand payment by a cashier’s cheque.
- There are some Irish companies that can’t accept (or have great difficulty with) direct debit transaction from overseas banks. That’s not the fault of N26. SEPA regulations should allow all companies to accept payment from any bank account in the EU, but not all Irish companies are SEPA compliant!
- N26 aren’t that great in dealing with fraudulent transactions. It would be better if they had a 24 hour phone line to deal with fraud and emergencies, and a process for reporting fraud that didn’t involve filling in a 4-page document for each transaction.
As long as theses limitations aren’t show-stoppers for you then I’d recommend N26 to you. I don’t actually use it as my only bank account. I still have an account with one of Ireland’s more traditional banks that’s used to pay the mortgage and the main bills – but I use N26 for my disposable cash, and it works very well.
I like the idea that fintech companies are innovating and pushing the boundaries of banking all the time – and I think that traditional high street banks should be worried for the future, as it won’t be long before online banking becomes the norm rather than the exception.