So I thought it time to give a bit of a review of a couple of cards for personal use, Monzo and Starling, and how my views have changed slightly.
For my non techie friends and relatives - download the Monzo app on your smart phone and follow the instructions to get one now... Just do it!
I prefer Monzo now, they are a proper bank now, and less hassle. I am recommending Monzo to my friends.
Both Monzo and Starling accounts have a number of key features:-
- Instant set up using a smart phone - you need photo of ID and short video clip and your details, and sorted.
- Both have "account switch" systems to move DDs and payments from another bank, but you don't need to close your existing bank account - nothing stops you having more than one bank!
- The account does all the usual things like direct debits, faster payments, and so on. You can have you salary paid in to them. They are proper bank accounts.
- Both offer overdrafts.
- Both do Apple pay.
- Both do live updates of spending on the phone app.
- Both allow third parties to send money using a debit card! i.e. charge someone's debit card to put money in to your account. That is cool, you can send someone a link to pay you money!
- Both allow API integration with your own systems so you can see transaction details live on your own computer system if you are geeky enough to want that. It is cool for geeks, honest.
- Both allow you to disable and re-enable the card as you wish.
- Both allow separate spending pots / savings pots to partition off your money.
I feel they are especially good for anyone living on a budget and wanting to carefully manage their money.
I got a Monzo card when it was in beta (my son got one in alpha), and was a pre-payment Mastercard with quite a nice phone app. Back then there was a waiting list even. I used in UK and US and worked well.
It has moved on massively since then. It is a proper bank, and they have neat features like warning you of a Direct Debit the day before, and you have to love the "ka-ching" sound when using the card. They now have Apple pay as well.
Some key advantages to Monzo:-
- The app clearly shows the limits on usage, e.g. daily card usage amounts and so on.
- They have a warning of DD payments the day before.
- They show declined card transactions and the reason why declined, very useful if there is some fraud, or you simply mistyped the expiry date!
- The API (and app) has way more detail including sender bank sort code and account number and showing the proper reference on payments and Direct Debits.
- The "ka-ching" sound effect when you spend money
- Really simple means to send payments between Monzo card holders you know, or near you, and the reference allows lots of text and even emojis, and reaction emojis as well making easy to acknowledge a payment with a smiley face.
- That really bright orange!
I got a Starling card later than Monzo, and one of the key things that impressed me was the instant set up. At the time Monzo had a waiting list which I am assuming they do not now. Also, not only did I have a working bank account in minutes, with sort code and account number, it was on Apple pay instantly even before I has the card. Next day it popped up offering an overdraft (though I don't use one). The day after the card arrived and it was in very cool packaging!
Whilst Apple pay is a bit gimmicky, I do like it, and use it, so I started using Starling for my day to day spending instead of Monzo. I also asked them about spending limits on the card as the app does not show it and they said there was no limit. With that I decide Starling was the card for me and pretty much stopped using Monzo at all. Indeed, a card that would just work for any amount I had on it, that was going to be my main bank account now. Finally a card that would do what I wonder, or so I thought.
I ran in to a few snags and basically they were not interested in fixing at all. One was that there were no details of sender sort code and account on payments, and another is the Direct Debits do not show the actual payment reference so you cannot relate to a specific DD notice for an individual invoice. Whilst both are minor issues, my concern was their reluctance to do anything or consider either an issue.
Then, recently, I found that they misled me over the spending limit on the card and actually it is £10,000. They also said that fast payments were £10,000 in 24 hours too, so having moved money to Starling to pay something more than £10,000 (only option was a single transaction for full amount as was on a web site) I could not move all the money back to a different account. It then turns out that this was also mis-information and that the £10,000 fast payment limit is per transaction! To this day I don't know if the £10,000 card limit is per transaction or per day...
To my surprise, even days after alerting them to these issues and misinformation a friend contacted me to ask about Starling limits as they too had multiple contradictory statements from Starling about limits, and they wanted to buy a £16,000 car but did not want embarrassment by having the card declined. They too were considering new banks like Starling because of the hassle of traditional banks and their over zealous and often misdirected "fraud protection" systems, and the appalling way you are treated once they are triggered. So it seems Starling have not learned. This is a real shame. Mistakes are one thing, not learning is another.
Now Monzo have Apple pay, I have basically stopped using Starling. Monzo have limits but they say what they are in the app, no ambiguity!
Their only possible saving grace is that Starling do business accounts now (in limited cases), and if that has a sane API (with sender sort code and account as well as full reference) that may be useful.
To be fair, some other features...
- Pay interest on credit balances, which is nice.
- Do some stuff with € it seems.
- It seems foreign cash withdrawals may be better.
Clearly neither Monzo nor Starling will help with any larger transactions. Monzo is great for day to day spending, but if and when I want to spend more, I cannot trust them to work because of usage limits. Also, I am wary of Barclays or Lloyds or other banks because of the hassle and attitude the second you trip their fraud systems. To be honest the attitude is perhaps the worst part.
So, it seems, the best way forward is an Amex card. They have a reputation for not dicking people about. I hope it is well founded. Early days (1st month) but we will see. So far only hassle is pizza hut don't seem to take Amex. Otherwise no problems at all. I'll blog more on this if/when I really put them to the test but that may be some time. It is almost sad that I am deliberately putting everything I do through Amex to make sure they build up my credit rather than using Monzo.
The good news is they do have an app and it has real time alerts. It is a bit odd, in fact, as the alerts flag up in the Apple Wallet in real time, and the Amex app lags behind by minutes. But the end result is I can see spending in real time just the same Monzo or Starling, which is nice. It also means any fraud can be sorted really quickly.
I hope that has been useful - I appreciate an Amex card is not for everyone - I have a wide range of readers and friends and I know some have used Amex Platinum for years (and have more money than sense, some of them), but some have almost no income and struggle, so it is a tad hard making a blog post that works for that range of people - maybe I have succeeded this time. I know that, thinking back to when I was really broke, a Monzo card would have been perfect.