New banking players are redefining what a checking account looks like.
Financial technology, or fintech, companies in banking — often called neobanks — typically offer mobile-focused accounts with eye-catching features, generally do without branches, and partner with banks since many don’t have banking licenses of their own. From 2018 to 2020, neobanks skyrocketed from 60 to 256 worldwide, according to a report by the business strategy firm Exton Consulting.
But more competition can have side effects. Once-innovative banking services such as two-day early direct deposits are becoming standardized, so “the challenge is how to stay differentiated,” says Kevin Travis, an executive vice president at the financial analytics firm Novantas.
Differentiating might mean appealing to certain groups, like freelancers or international travelers, or offering unusual perks. Here’s how some current and upcoming neobanks try to stand out.
Launched in early 2020, Oxygen’s digital banking account aims to help freelancers and self-employed workers manage cash flow. Expenses can be sorted and saved with photos of receipts, and fast payment delivery is available thanks to Oxygen’s partner bank’s participation with Visa Direct, Visa’s speedy payment service. Oxygen doesn’t charge monthly or overdraft fees. One unusual perk is the ability to incorporate, or legally become a company, in the app and then open a business account.
For cheap overdraft
The crown jewel of One Finance’s banking account is its low-cost line of credit. Launched in 2020, One doesn’t charge fees or interest on transactions that go negative if a customer pays back within a month; otherwise it charges 1% interest monthly on the unpaid balance. That’s cheaper than big banks’ overdraft fees, which average around $35. One also provides up to two-day early direct deposit, a free nationwide ATM network and interest-earning subaccounts called pockets, which can be single or joint accounts.
For cash-back rewards
Bella approaches banking, in its words, “built on love.” That translates to a checking account rewards program that gives a random percentage of cash back from 5% to 200%. Launched in 2020, Bella doesn’t charge monthly, overdraft or ATM fees, and Bella currently covers ATM operator fees. There are also multiple no-fee savings accounts and an optional “karma account,” which is a fund of up to $20 to pay for other customers' small purchases or be a recipient of another’s generosity.
For budgeting and credit
MoCaFi, or Mobility Capital Finance, is a Black-owned digital platform started in 2016 that provides free checking and tools, including a credit score tracker, to serve largely unbanked and underbanked communities, with a focus on closing the racial wealth gap. Its bill pay feature lets customers report rent payments to major credit bureaus to build credit history. MoCaFi works with its third-party partners to provide free cash reloads at various retailers and free mobile check deposits with fast release of funds.
Started in 2015, the U.K.-based Revolut may particularly appeal to savvy international travelers who want competitive exchange rates and a debit card that can hold over 150 currencies. Customers can transfer funds internationally with other Revolut users, withdraw up to $300 monthly with no fees and earn interest on savings. That’s all with the free account. For more perks including overseas medical insurance, Revolut offers two accounts with monthly fees of $10 and $17.
More players on deck
Keep an eye out for these three neobanks’ debuts later in 2021:
- Daylight: Formerly called Be Money, Daylight will launch a mobile bank account focusing on the LGBTQ community with features such as access to financial coaches and accounts with a person’s chosen name, rather than their legal name.
- Greenwood: The Black-owned digital banking company already has half a million people on its waitlist for spending and savings accounts that emphasize reinvesting wealth in Black and Latino communities.
- Plex (by Google): The search engine giant plans to combine Google Pay with a full-fledged, mobile-first checking account called Plex with 11 banks and credit unions. It will provide tools such as advanced transaction searches and a spending tracker.
From credit tracking tools to travel perks, modern checking accounts offer more than their predecessors. Before getting one, check whether the fintech company is a bank or partners with a bank that covers your account with FDIC insurance, and see which features would best serve your financial life.