Chime, Varo Money, or Current?

 

Last updated on September 4, 2021

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Legacy banks in the United States can be hit or miss with customers. On the one hand, banks help millions of people to plan their financial lives. They also provide a range of products and services for every need. On the other hand, some banks routinely discriminate against people of color by either denying them loans or charging them higher rates.

A few banks regularly make headlines for the wrong reasons, such as Wells Fargo and its numerous scandals, and Goldman Sachs and its constant engagement in criminal behavior. (Banks are run by people, the same suspect people responsible for the dishonest acts above. However, these individuals are rarely held accountable. Instead, many walk away unpunished, get golden parachutes, or end up working in the White House.)

The shortcomings of US banks have created opportunities for alternatives. Secondly, new generations of users seek different banking experiences. “Challenger banks” are startups that compete directly with established banks in a country. They aim to make financial dealings more convenient, mobile, hassle-free, transparent, and cost-efficient. For example, customers can open accounts using smartphone apps instead of visiting branches. Also, unlike traditional banks, their products and services are meant to accommodate new types of workers, including freelancers, remote workers, digital nomads, and global citizens.

How to Choose a Mobile Banking App/Company

Choosing the best mobile banking app depends on three factors, including your needs, financial goals, and budget. Understanding those aspects will make it easier to select the right partner and company.

Assess your needs first. Before evaluating financial apps, consider your requirements. For example, you want flight insurance because you travel a lot. Or, you request payments often and want to use a customizable link to make the process more efficient.

Understand your financial goals. For everyday financial transactions, mobile-first banks are excellent. If you have unique needs, you may require a traditional bank. Suppose you want to start investing or seek a tax-exempt account. Most challenger banks don’t offer robust investing platforms. Moreover, tax-free accounts are rare.

Consider your budget. While free accounts/plans are standard with neobanks, users must pay to access more features and benefits. It’s the classic freemium model that thousands of tech companies use. They offer free plans with the goal of converting users to premium accounts. Secondly, monthly plan/subscription fees can add up to over a hundred euros, pounds, or dollars annually. For some people, paying monthly fees might not be financially prudent or practical for their budget/saving objectives or debt obligations.

Standard Features

Challenger banks, neobanks, and financial technology companies (fintechs) will continue to add products, services, and features to compete with their rivals and traditional banks. What one company doesn’t have today, it will likely offer in a few months to a year. Therefore, you needn’t worry about missing out later. Challenger bank apps typically have these features:

  • No monthly fees or minimum balances
  • Virtual and physical bank cards
  • Instant push notifications on all transactions
  • Analytics and the categorization of expenses
  • Multiple accounts for saving and budgeting goals
  • No foreign exchange fees when spending abroad
  • Free money transfers to other users
  • Make recurring payments
  • Download and print account activity
  • Connectivity to third-party apps, for example, Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Card lock/unlock at your discretion, for example, if your card gets lost or stolen

Three challenger banks that should be on your radar are Chime, Varo, and Current. Let’s review what they offer.

US Challenger Bank Apps

Chime

Chime makes mobile banking easy with a modern and intuitive banking app that handles everything from tracking your spending and savings to paying friends. Its features include:

  • Mobile and online banking access
  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Fee-free overdraft protection up to $100 (Chime SpotMe)
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Mail checks to businesses and individuals (Chime Checkbook)
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Automatically transfer 10 percent of every paycheck to your savings account
  • Increase your credit score by an average of 30 points with a secured credit card

Varo Money

Varo offers premium bank accounts, high-interest savings accounts, and tech-first features to help people manage their money more efficiently. It’s poised to become a full-fledged bank, making it the first of a new wave of fintech startups to win that approval in the US.

  • Mobile and online banking access
  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Get an advance of up to $100 (Varo Advance)
  • Earn interest with a high APY
  • Connect your other financial accounts to manage all your money
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Automatically transfer a percentage of every paycheck to your savings account
  • Deposit cash at thousands of retail locations nationwide
  • Deposit checks in the app or have Varo mail paper checks for you for free

Current

Current is built to meet the needs of people with unique lives who have been overlooked by the traditional banking industry. It started as a mobile banking app for teens but has expanded its services to become a challenger bank.

  • Get paid up to two days early by using direct deposits
  • Withdraw funds at thousands of fee-free ATMs
  • Fee-free overdraft protection up to $100 (Current Overdrive)
  • Earn up to 15x points when you swipe your card at participating merchants
  • Deposit cash instantly into your Current account at 60,000 stores
  • Automatically set aside money for specific purchases and savings goals
  • Round up transactions to the nearest dollar to save the difference
  • Instantly refund holds that gas stations put on your card after fill up

 

Revenue Models

Since challenger banks differ from traditional banks, you might be wondering how Chime, Varo, and Current make money.

Chime makes money from interchange fees. Every time a customer uses her Chime Debit Card, Visa processes the transaction and charges an interchange fee for the service. Chime gets a percentage of that fee every time. It charges $2.50 when you get cash from either an over-the-counter withdrawal or an out-of-network ATM. Click here for Chime’s fees.

Varo makes money by splitting the interest margin. It gets a percentage of interchange fees when customers use their debit cards. Click here for Varo’s fees.

Current makes money from monthly fees for premium and teen accounts. It charges 3 percent on international transactions. It gets a percentage of interchange fees when customers use their debit cards. Replacement card and express mail fees apply. Click here for Current’s fees.

Products & Services

Checking Account

A checking (current) account is a bank account that allows you to conduct everyday financial activities, such as deposits, withdrawals, bill payments, and recurring payments. A current account typically doesn’t attract interest but may receive if it maintains a minimum amount as set forth by the bank, for example, $25,000. All four challenger banks offer checking accounts.

Savings Account

A savings account is a bank account where you can store money you don’t need right away while having easy access to funds. It typically earns a modest interest rate. Chime and Varo offer savings accounts. Current Bank does not.

Overdraft

Overdraft protection can be costly. However, many people find it useful. Chime offers SpotMe, which is an alternative to bank overdrafts. SpotMe lets you make debit card purchases that overdraw your account with no overdraft fees. Customers can overdraw by up to $100. Varo offers a no-fee overdraft of up to $50 to eligible customers for purchases or withdrawals made with the Varo Visa Debit Card. Current Bank offers free overdraft protection up to $100.

Other Products

All three companies lack insurance and international money transfer products. Alternatively, Wise is a money transfer service that is available to US citizens. It also offers a “borderless” account, which is like a zero-interest savings account. Users can send, receive, hold multiple currencies, and exchange money at mid-market exchange rates and low fees.

Product Comparison

ChimeVaroCurrent
Checking accountYesYesYes
Savings accountYesYesNo
Personal loanNoYesNo
OverdraftYesYesYes
Money transferNoNoNo
InsuranceNoNoNo
Investment accountNoNoNo
FeesNoneNoneNone

Alternatives

Traditional Banks

Traditional banks are playing catching up with mobile banks, but that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed. Many established banks and financial institutions have mobile apps for financial management on the go. Case in point, Discover (around since 1999) offers online and mobile banking, various accounts, no account fees, no insufficient funds or overdraft charges, no minimum balances, free ATM withdrawals, and more.

European Challenger Banks

US challenger banks pale in comparison to their European counterparts, and the latter has noticed. European challenger banks including Revolut, N26, and Monzo offer an impressive suite of products, services, and features in their home countries. Knowing this, they’ve entered the US market with the goal of replicating their offerings and successes. N26 has the early lead, but Revolut is the company to watch given its supremacy in other markets. Monzo has a waitlist.

US Challenger Brokers

Challenger brokers focus on low account fees and low-cost exchange-traded fund (ETF) investments. Secondarily, some offer interest-bearing cash accounts, which differ from traditional checking and savings accounts. If saving is your goal, challenger brokers are worth reviewing.

Other Financial Apps

Digit analyzes your spending and automatically moves money from your checking account to your Digit account when you can afford it. User accounts hold savings until withdrawn, and funds are held at FDIC-insured banks. When you save with Digit for three consecutive months, your account is rewarded with a 0.10% annualized savings bonus. Digit costs $5 a month.

Remitly, a remittance and money transfer service, has launched Passbook. It allows a person to use different picture IDs–whether they are from the US or not–to sign up. There are no foreign, minimum balance, monthly, overdraft, or card replacement fees.

 

Best Products & Services

  • Best for saving: Varo
  • Best overdraft: Chime
  • Best for personal loans: Varo
  • Best for account options: Discover
  • Best for sending money abroad: Wise
  • Best for holding multiple currencies: Wise
  • Best for immigrants: Remitly Passbook

Your Next Move

US challenger banks are making steady progress, and consumers should take note. While they don’t offer a wide selection of financial products, they aim to be cost-free, technology-driven, and convenient with more products to come.

I will be watching Chime, Varo, and Current closely. I will also be following European neobanks to see what inroads they make. Challenger brokers are successfully upending the investment marketplace, so perhaps they’ll do the same in banking. Ultimately, US customers have ample choice to circumvent high and hidden fees, nefarious activities, discrimination, long lineups, and unnecessary paperwork. Financial mobility is here, exciting and available on your smartphone.

 

Chad Tennant

Chad is a digital marketer, consultant, and publisher. At Digital Fodder, he offers insights and strategies concerning online marketing, ecommerce, working online, YouTube, and more. At Partnercade, he helps companies grow their affiliate program revenues and partnerships. Connect or start a conversation with Chad on LinkedIn.

 
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