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NatWest launches new challenger bank Bó – can it rival Monzo and Starling?

Find out whether high street banks can compete with the fintech start-ups

A new smartphone-based digital account called Bó has launched, which comes complete with a bright yellow card and backing from UK banking giant NatWest.

It’s the latest development as big high street banks try to keep up with popular fintech (financial technology) start-ups, offering popular features, such as real-time categorised spending updates and budgeting help.

But is it any good?

Here, we explain what Bó (pronounced like ‘go’) has to offer, and how it fares against its biggest challenger bank rivals: Monzo and Starling.


What does Bó offer?

While it has a separate chief executive, Bó uses NatWest’s banking licence to cover the money stored in your Bó account.

Rather than a full current account, Bó has been designed as a ‘second’ account to track your spending money each month – and although you get a debit card it operates more like a prepaid card.

Its website says you should ‘leave your bills and direct debits where they are’. That’s because it’s not possible to pay bills or direct debits through Bó, nor can you have your salary paid into the account. This is much like the initial incarnation of Monzo.

Account basics

  • You can open an account through the app on your smartphone (there are both iOS and Android apps), for which you’ll need to have an inbuilt camera to take a selfie and your ID.
  • Accounts are limited to UK residents over the age of 18; if you pay tax in any country other than the UK you won’t be able to open an account.
  • Once your application has been verified, you’ll be given a sort code and account number, and sent your own bright yellow Bó Visa debit card.
  • The card is contactless, and can be used abroad.
  • Money can only be transferred into the account from banks that use the UK Faster Payments scheme.
  • The app gives real-time transaction updates, showing what was spent, the retailer and a map of where the transaction was made.
  • Payments are automatically categorised so you can see where your money’s going.
  • You can create a spending budget, which shows your daily spending and how much money you have left for the month.
  • There’s a ‘piggy bank’ saving feature, but money saved won’t earn any interest.

Safety features

  • Bó cards can be locked via the app’s ‘lock card’ button. It can’t be used while it’s locked.
  • Cards can be cancelled via the app. If your phone is stolen, cards can be cancelled via the Bó website or via email.

Overseas spending

  • Bó can be used anywhere Visa is accepted abroad.
  • Payments will be converted into pounds using the Visa Payment Scheme Exchange Rate.

Standing orders, direct debits and overdrafts

  • No arranged overdrafts.
  • No fees on unarranged overdrafts; you can go overdrawn in cases where retailers or service providers take payments even if you don’t have enough money in the account.

Fees

  • If you lose or damage your card, you can have two free replacements and then £5 each time afterwards. Replacement cards for getting your name changed or to replace a stolen card will be issued for free.
  • Cash withdrawals are free, but you may be charged by the ATM operator.

Is your money protected with Bó?

Cash held with Bó is protected up to £85,000 under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

However, the compensation covers each banking institution, rather than each bank. So, in order for your cash to be fully covered you should make sure you have no more than £85,000 collectively saved in Bó, NatWest and RBS accounts.

Bó vs Monzo vs Starling

Royal Bank of Scotland group reportedly once looked into putting in an offer to buy Monzo, before deciding to develop its own app-based bank.

According to the latest current account switching data from Bacs covering 1 April to 30 June 2019, NatWest, Monzo and Starling were among the few banking brands who made positive net gains.

Contactless debit card Overdraft Paying in Fees Earning interest
Monzo Yes Yes Bank transfer, salary payments, cash deposits via PayPoint 3% charge on ATM withdrawals abroad after the first £200, each month Several savings pots that pay up to 1.4% AER
Starling Yes Yes Bank transfer, salary payments, cash deposits via Post Office No Current account interest of up to 0.5% AER on balances up to £2,000; 0.25% AER on £2,001-£85,000
Yes No UK Faster Payments scheme bank transfer After two free card replacements: £5 each. None

Monzo and Starling also offer the card freezing options, real-time transaction updates and spending categorisations.

More recently, Monzo has branched out into offering personal loans, while Starling has introduced a euro bank account where you can hold, send and receive euros for free.

Monzo is also delivering on customer satisfaction, topping our best bank tables for 2019.

Should you open an account with Bó?

In terms of the features it offers, there doesn’t seem to be anything Bó offers that its competitors don’t already do.

Some people may also feel restricted by the fact that it currently only accepts bank transfers.

Plus, while there are features in place to help you save, you don’t get any interest on the money you’ve set aside. And you can currently only make one ‘piggy bank’ account; whereas apps like Monzo allow you to make multiple accounts to save for different things at the same time.

However, if you want to use things like real-time payment updates and budgeting features, but don’t want to chance your arm with a banking brand you may not have heard of before, the fact that Bó is backed by NatWest could make it more enticing.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect forthcoming changes in Bó’s terms and conditions, which have removed the cash withdrawal charges that had been in place while the product was tested. 

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