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The N26 diaries: My week as an N26 customer

Brexit may not be the ultimate cause of N26’s planned exit in April 2020 but AltFi’s new reporter Aisling Finn is moving her money to Monzo.

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As a newcomer to the fintech beat, I thought I should sign up to, and subsequently do a review of, N26 as it is considered one of the most successful challenger banks. 

N26 was the first of the digital banking giants to burst onto the scene, launching way back in January 2015 in Germany and Austria and securing its full European Banking license in 2016. 

Despite the challenger bank boasting over five million customers over 26 countries and over 1,500 employees across five locations, it clearly didn’t make enough of an impact on the UK market to even make it past the two-year mark.

There are several reasons why N26 might be leaving the UK but I highly doubt Brexit is the primary reason - I think the bank massively struggled to compete against the UK’s digital banking giants, Monzo,Revolut and Starling.

N26 first launched in the UK in October 2018, nearly two and a half years after the Brexit referendum and six months before Brexit was originally meant to happen. 

You’d think that the bank might have considered Brexit as a fairly important factor in launching in the UK, right? So, why is N26 citing it as the reason for it leaving now? 

The Berlin-based digital bank simply failed to appeal to the same amount of customers as its rivals, it has fewer quirks to draw people in, yes it was one of the first digital banks to offer a premium service but the others have caught up (and even overtaken) the European bankN26. 

You also don’t get as many perks as its rivals, for instance, you have to pay when you withdraw money abroad, unlike rivals Monzo, who give you a free £200 allowance per month, and Revolut who have a whopping £5,000 cap on international transactions.

Plus it seems to be a weird combination of a digital bank that is still trying to cling onto the traditional bank’s way of doing things.

I will admit that my now permanently-shelved review was less than glowing. More or less the only thing I vaguely liked about the digital bank was the app, and even then it wasn’t anything extraordinary. 

My first major issue with N26 was that to fully activate your account you had to withdraw cash, something that seemed so far (in the wrong direction) from other digital banks, for instance, with Monzo you can add your card to Apple Pay and use it before your physical card arrives. 

N26 described it as: “no-cash aspiration with a sprinkle of occasional-cash pragmatism”, I would describe it as archaic and very un-digital bank to me, particularly as we are increasingly moving towards a cashless society. 

Luckily, the N26 app has a handy ATM locator for you to find that cash machine needed to activate your account.

I had hoped that N26 would be as easy to set up as other digital banks, but, and this is a fairly big but, I was actually unable to set up my account using the app.

Now, I don’t know if this is just a Me issue or it just happened to be having a bad day (an omen for what was to come?) but, I had to set up my account on their web page- well, I got as far along as possible in the process until I was told I needed the mobile app to complete the setup.

Everything about this was annoying and fiddly and not as streamlined and easy compared to opening my other digital bank accounts, something that I found quite shocking considering 

N26 also doesn’t offer as many quirky, and downright attractive, features as its competitors. 

While it does have saving pots, and a really cool function where you can drag and drop your money between accounts, you can’t round up transactions, unlike other digital banks. 

I must admit that I quite enjoy being able to save up my pennies without having to think twice about it. Having to actively put money into my savings pot without it just automatically appearing there whenever I use my card, is another reason why I much prefer other digital banks.

The long and short of it is that, in my opinion, N26 is using Brexit as a scapegoat to hide behind. The real reason it is leaving the UK is that it failed to muster up any real competition for it’s UK rivals.

Having an EU banking license shouldn’t hinder a seriously competitive bank from operating in the UK, after all Revolut has a Lithuanian banking license.

Similarly, just minutes after the announcement Dutch challenger bank Bunq, who currently only offer a Euro bank account, said: “We see no regulatory reason to leave the UK”.

Starling bank also rubbing salt in the wound quickly tweeted: “Just found out your bank’s making a swift Brexit? Don’t worry- we’re here to stay”.

Personally I’m glad that my foray into N26 was shortlived, even with it leaving the UK I doubt I would have lasted much longer. It’s back to the comfort of my Monzo account for now. 

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