California regulators just told the fintech Chime to stop calling itself a bank. And they have a valid point. Like the other neobanks, Chime isn’t actually a bank. It’s a fintech app developer. Its app allows users to transfer money to bank accounts managed by Chime’s partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank. The app provides additional financial management features that standard bank accounts don’t provide. And some neobanks are better known for these features than they are for providing banking services. Here are a few examples.
Money Management and Budget Planning
Yolt is a British fintech app that offers money management and budget planning. This app pulls information from many financial services that its customers use and organizes it on a central platform. It can do this because of open banking laws in the UK that require financial institutions to provide API access to their customers’ accounts. The neobanks Monzo and Revolut offer similar budget-planning services, but they’re often considered banks while Yolt is seen as a money management app. But Yolt also offers a debit card, just like the neobanks do, and this card works just like a neobank’s debit card.
In fact, one of the Yolt features that caught my attention is a feature that’s often considered a strength of neobanks like Revolut, not budget planning apps. Yolt charges a 0.5 percent currency conversion fee on international purchases. That’s a much lower fee than what the banks charge. And Yolt doesn’t list different fees for different countries like many other neobanks do. So making a purchase through Yolt in many countries, especially developing countries, could cost less than using an international money transfer app. But Yolt is best known as a money management app.
Some neobanks offer cryptocurrency trading to their users. Just like the other financial services that neobanks offer, these services are provided through partnerships with third-party cryptocurrency brokerages. For example, Revolut offers cryptocurrency trading through the brokerage Paxos Trust Company. Gemini Trust Company manages cryptocurrency trading for Unifimoney.
These cryptocurrency brokerages hold the wallets where the cryptocurrency is stored for the neobank’s users. Typically, the brokerages just offer trading services for the neobanks. Neobanks don’t usually allow their customers to deposit cryptocurrencies obtained elsewhere with them. And customers typically can’t withdraw cryptocurrencies from the brokerage accounts directly. Cryptocurrency positions must be cashed out before the proceeds can be moved to other deposit accounts.
And cryptocurrency trading is very popular with the younger customers who have signed up for neobank accounts. The Revolut subreddit is full of posts about trading Dogecoins and other cryptocurrencies. Neobanks offer a wide variety of financial services that help their users save money, pay their bills, and plan for retirement, but these topics may not be as exciting as speculating on cryptocurrencies.
Neobanks often help their users transfer money across international borders, and Wise is one of the best-known money transfer services. But Wise is also a neobank. It not only offers its own debit card, this debit card comes with a multicurrency account. Unlike regular checking accounts, the Wise multicurrency account allows users to store balances in 56 different currencies.
Revolut, N26, and other neobanks offer multicurrency accounts as well. The Revolut multicurrency account supports 28 different currencies. These accounts process transactions within each country as a transfer between local banks, so the user doesn’t have to pay a currency conversion fee and the bank doesn’t collect a spread on each transaction. The idea is that it’s like using a debit card issued by a local bank to make purchases in every country the traveler visits.
Neobanks have also added behavioral economics features that help their users save money. Many of them can round up transactions and store the savings in a separate account. For example, if a customer buys a coffee drink for $4.50, the neobank can round the bill up to $5.00 and automatically move the remaining $0.50 to a savings account. The customer still has nearly as much money in their main checking account after buying the coffee, but the pool of savings builds up over time. The customer can use the savings to pay for a large future expense such as a vacation or a home improvement project.
Chime offers one of these savings round-up services. But the first fintech to offer a round-up service as far as I know was the fintech Acorns. This firm rounded up transactions for its users and used the savings to purchase stocks for them. And Acorns could be considered a neobank as well because it also offers a debit card that helps its users implement this strategy. It’s best known as an automated savings app, though.
Neobanks may go by several different names while offering similar services. A fintech app might be marketed as a money management app, a cryptocurrency investment app, a money transfer app, or an automated savings app. Either way, these companies aren’t banks. They’re financial services companies that develop smartphone apps. But there are many valid ways to describe these startups, and more than one term may apply to the services they provide. And if one neobank offers a financial service that you like, another fintech may offer a better deal in that area even if it’s targeting a different market.