Swiss banking: the apps putting customers first
Many Swiss banks still operate the traditional way: that means turning up in person just to open an account and paying hefty fees for basic services and any card usage abroad.
Get out of the Swiss banking slow lane ...
While a fintech revolution has swept Europe over the past decade, banking in Switzerland has remained a little more set in its ways. The Swiss have never worried about being different.
As well as keeping their own currency and continuing to love cash, they have hundreds of well-established Swiss banks to choose from (including the 24 cantonal banks). But how many meet your everyday banking expectations (let alone doing so at low cost)?
On arriving in Switzerland, you may find even on visiting one of these banks in person that it could take weeks to get an active account. You may also have to wait to see a staff member who speaks English. And beware trying to visit in your lunch break – some branches are closed.
Save time and money (with the arrival of the apps)
There has clearly been a gap in the market that the neobanks are now filling with savvy solutions.
"The immediacy of information in the neon app about transactions and the exchange rate is really customer-friendly," says Lefteris Coroyannakis, a Canadian neon user living in Zurich. "It was also a nice experience to set it up with digital ID verification. With retail banks like UBS, they work nine to five with a lunch break and there's a lot more of a paper trail."
Independent online comparison service moneyland.ch says app-based services also offer “notably better currency exchange rates and lower fees” than conventional Swiss banks.
Living in a small country with many borders, you may particularly value low-cost card usage abroad. A moneyland.ch comparison found neon, Revolut and TransferWise are “significantly cheaper” for foreign transactions than Swiss app Zak and Swiss credit cards.
For anyone making frequent card purchases abroad, neon was the lowest cost provider – ahead of international rivals Revolut and TransferWise. Using a Credit Suisse standard credit card for the transactions in moneyland.ch’s comparison would cost you over 500 francs more in a year than using neon.
neon was also one of the three best options if you withdraw large amounts of money outside Switzerland – taking into account both exchange rates and any fees charged. Revolut and TransferWise fared best for occasional ATM withdrawals.
“With neon, Switzerland now has a local app-based banking solution with currency exchange rates and foreign transaction fees that can compete with TransferWise and Revolut,” moneyland.ch states in its review.
Other neon features that make life in Switzerland easier – and are not offered by international competitors – include using eBills, paying payment slips, a Swiss IBAN that makes it easy to receive your salary, and coverage by the Swiss depositor protection scheme.
Swiss security not secrecy
You may not be a billionaire in need of a secret bank account. But you do want to know your funds are safe.
With neon, your funds are kept in a Hypothekarbank Lenzburg account and the depositor protection scheme guarantees up to 100,000 CHF. Your personal data will also stay in Switzerland.
While Revolut and TransferWise are well-known for their international benefits, they may not offer everything you want as an expat in Switzerland. According to moneyland.ch, neither “provides a stand-alone alternative to a Swiss bank account”.
The comparison site states that “receiving incoming transfers (from Swiss employers, for example) is not practical” and no coverage by the Swiss depositor protection scheme is a further disadvantage.
Transparency and trust
Fintech has broken down barriers by introducing a degree of transparency that is alien to older banks. In doing so, the new players seek to build trust with their users and let them make their own choices.
In this spirit, neon recently launched a partnership with TransferWise. It allows you to send money directly to an international account for a 0.4 percent convenience fee on top of what TransferWise charges. For this small cost, your money could arrive within a few minutes – and always far quicker than with Swiss alternatives.
To get a neon account, you need to be over 16, resident in Switzerland with a B or C permit and resident for tax purposes exclusively in Switzerland. Google Pay is now available with neon (although Apple Pay is not yet). You also get a choice of four languages – English, German, French and Italian – and customer service at weekends.
Tradition has its place. But when it comes to managing your money, isn’t it time for some innovation and choice?
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