Thursday 25 July 2019
The digital banking app that's packed with features... except some of the ordinary banking ones.
The set-up of the account including initial credit top-up and identity confirmation took under 15 minutes with the promise of a physical card within 9 working days - or 3 days if you select express and pay £11.99 instead of the £4.99 standard. Both the ‘metal’ and ‘premium’ cards are delivered express for free and you are able to set up a ‘virtual card’ immediately but more on those later.
Only 5 working days after ordering at the standard rate a small, nondescript envelope arrived and out came a slim cardboard package with Revolt’s Instagram-esque gradient colour scheme and a small white logo just in case. A simple black finger tab is all that shows which when pulled makes your brand new card come sliding out the other side in a magical effect that you can’t help but repeat half a dozen times. Whichever black-belt origami master helped devise this certainly encapsulated the ‘Beyond Banking’ slogan that now stares back at you alongside your new, ready to use card.
Spending your hard-earned money is becoming the gratifying experience it should be with the rise of digital banking and Revolut definitely delivers here too. Instant notifications, payment categorisations, logos of most franchises, store locations (albeit via a link to google maps), budgeting and the recent addition of Google and Apple Pay truly help you feel in control. The bill-splitting and payment requests make the awkwardness of money chat much easier too. Using GIFs to remind friends on Revolut you’ve lent money never gets boring and the simplicity of requesting payments with a simple URL from ‘normal folk’ is as simple for them as the best e-commerce platforms out there - you’ll never need to send a sort code again.
The main interface in the app is clean and intuitive for the tasks you’ll use most regularly. An interactive chart at the top of the screen helps you review your spending and earning patterns as it syncs with the transaction list below. Searching for previous payments is very simple, as is reviewing past payments which can be grouped by category, merchant or country. It gives a real insight into your habits and helps you see where you could reign it in a little or where you’ve managed to rack up some savings.
Another great innovation is the ability to create virtual cards. You can create up to 5 of these which give you all the details you need to complete online purchases but without any of the inconvenient plastic. This way you can relax in the knowledge that the slightly suspicious e-commerce store selling too good to be true bargains only has access to a payment card with a spending limit of a tenner and that can be cancelled or ‘frozen’ and ‘unfrozen’ in a flash. At the same time, you can keep those streaming services running 24x7 without having to go and change all your details in a dozen places if you lose your wallet. There’s also the option of a ‘disposable virtual card’ for premium and metal users that creates single-use details which are automatically regenerated after every use because hey, there are bad people out there.
Along with these virtual cards, some other security features should be mentioned, ones that traditional banks should have worked out long ago. As with most digital banking apps now you can ‘freeze’ your card whenever you like with a quick touch a button, great if you’ve misplaced it. Then when you find your card again ‘unfreeze’ and your back to spending as usual without the need to order a new card. Then there’s location-based security. With this enabled your card will only work if in the same geographic area as your phone. Lastly, you can, at will, turn off and on contactless & magstripe payments in the app. All of these really do add up to give peace of mind when needed.
One pet peeve when using multiple currencies, covered in the ‘Going Abroad’ section, is that each is listed separately so it’s hard to get an overall spending pattern if you’re regularly travelling. That said a simple tinder swipe left or right lets you switch between each currency with ease.
Another minor shortcoming is with the budgeting feature. It allows you to set a monthly limit for each currency you’re holding and then notifies you how much you can spend each day to stay on target but that’s it. Whilst that is certainly better than what has been available traditionally it would be great to see some real functionality in here - for example letting you budget for luxuries and necessities separately. No one wants to feel guilty for buying a ticket for their commute but a gentle reminder to skip that fancy deli lunch once in a while couldn't hurt.
Arguably their biggest negative when it comes to payments is that there have been payment processing outages in recent times. They are few and far between and Revolut have done their best to notify users beforehand, but a notification that asks you to carry an alternative method of payment does not instil confidence. You want your money exactly when you want it and don’t want to feel trepidation when tapping your barista’s payment terminal first thing in the morning.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the limitations of ATM withdrawals - unlike Starling’s unlimited withdrawals Revolut limits the amount you can withdraw to £200 per rolling month with a charge of 2% thereafter. This can be increased to £400 with the premium account and £600 with the metal.
Revolut completely falls short here. On the surface it seems simple reporting a 12.9% APR with sliders for credit amount and repayment duration but then you move forward and realise that it’s a white label of Lending Works P2P loans and that you’ll still need to fill in an ‘old-fashioned’ form to get your quote - a form which hasn’t even been auto-filled with the details you’ve used to get Revolut set up in the first place. It’s easier the 2nd time you apply and nice that it all happens within the app but it’s not what you expect from a bank. Revolut did get their banking license granted back in December 2018 so this could and should change one day soon.
When going abroad you actually feel like you’re cheating a little with Revolut. You can currently convert your home currency into nearly any global currency at the interbank exchange rate. There is a limit of £5,000 per month and anything over is charged 0.5% - although both Premium and Metal accounts have unlimited exchange.
You can do this as needed while abroad where you’ll see the amount withdrawn from your home currency at the current exchange rate or, and this is where things get fun, you can exchange money at will and store up to 29 currencies (USD, GBP, EUR, PLN, CHF, DKK, NOK, SEK, RON, SGD, HKD, AUD, NZD, TRY, ILS, AED, CAD, HUF, JPY, MAD, CZK, QAR, THB, ZAR, MXN, RUB, SAR, HRK, BGN) in your account. You can also receive money in all of these currencies which really sets the bar to a new height for Revolut’s competitors. The process of exchanging from one currency to another is all very simple and can be extremely useful when planning ahead as you can set up alerts at high and low rates within the app so you can make an exchange at a rate that suits you best... particularly helpful if your home currency is experiencing abnormal volatility (author sheds a tear for Brexit).
Alongside the aforementioned LendingWorks integration for P2P borrowing Revolut offers another integration that could be of interest for any Crypto-bugs out there.
In the same way, you can hold currency in the 29 global currencies you can also set up accounts for the ‘big five’ cryptocurrencies Bitcoin (BTC), Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), and Ripple (XRP). They’ve partnered with Bitstamp as their exchange and store their users' coins in pooled wallets that utilise multi-signature and cold storage security methods. You receive instantly see the amount at the rate quote appear but with a 1.5% markup “to account for volatility” while the exchange goes through. It's just so wonderfully easy to do compared to the laborious lengths you'd have had to go through to before.
Revolut offers both Travel Insurance for trips up to 40 days as well as device Insurance. Prices are competitive and payment methods are varied. One so-easy-it’s-hard-not-to option is to have travel insurance automatically added whenever you - or more specifically your phone - are abroad.
Lastly, Revolut has also recently started to offer you the ability to donate to charities within the app either on a regular basis or with a one-off payment. Queue the warm and fuzzy feelings.
Savings are fairly simplistic at Revolut. You set up a ‘Vault’ which you give a name and a target amount. You can have as many as you like and they’re topped up using one or all of three methods: Arbitrary ‘one-off savings’, ‘recurring savings’ of a fixed amount at regular intervals or ‘spare change’ same as the rounding up of transactions at others such as Starling Bank and Monzo. Also, the same as Starling you can ‘accelerate’ your spare change saving by multiples of x2, x3, x4, x5 and x10 which sort of defeats the object of having nice clean integers in your account but at least you’ll get to that holiday sooner.
Besides that, there are no options to further your savings with interest rates, ISAs, or fixed-term savings accounts. There is however a faded out ‘Wealth’ section of the app with the written promise of ‘Coming Soon’ so watch this space.
Revolut has truly embraced the latest trend of trying to do away with people in the support chain and replace them with automation. There is a phone number but you’ll be dealing with a robot whose only purpose is to help you in the case that you can’t access your app and need to lock down your cards.
Other than that you’re prompted to use the in-app chat facility or search the faqs. The chat facility starts you off with ‘Rita’ their chat-bot. Rita is fairly knowledgeable, has a good ability to interpret language and seems to have answers for any product based questions but thankfully you do also have the option to chat with a live agent. When tested they’ve come to the chat room within a few minutes and are very helpful. But, particularly when asking more complex questions, you get the feeling that they have a few chats going on simultaneously as you wait for responses.
All in all a good experience but missing the human touch.
The Grab Bag is stuff that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else in our review.
Upgrades - Along with the advantages mentioned above the Premium account - £6.99 per month - also offers you free spare cards, free overseas medical insurance, ‘exclusive’ card designs and priority support with the Metal account - £12.99 per month - also offering an in-app concierge service, cash back on purchases at a rate of 0.1% in Europe and 1% outside of Europe. and of course, a metal card.
Revolut is a feature backed digital bank and is constantly innovating to deliver even more. But as it stands it’s missing some of the key features you expect from an actual bank.
With their banking license in hand and a focus on delivering the reliability one expects from the custodians of their money, it seems only a matter of time before they become more than just an amazing way to manage your money and start becoming a good home for it too.