It’s hard to avoid the thought that banks are boring. You put your money there, maybe take out some imaginary money you don’t have or pretend to own a house when really it belongs to the bank. Actually, when you look at banks like that, man they are weird places. I’m in a strange position where I’ve had an account with nearly every bank account in Ireland and even worked for one. With all that accidental and incidental research I think I’m in a fairly good position to see who offers the most when it comes to tech.
Bank of Ireland
I’m starting with Bank of Ireland because they are my primary account, or at least they were. Bank of Ireland is Ireland’s oldest bank, a trait that’s unfortunately visible in their technology. The Bank of Ireland mobile banking app is terribly dated in terms of how it looks and how it works and doesn’t work. Even today, in a totally mobile world, their mobile banking app can be difficult to use on a smartphone.
Bank of Ireland doesn’t offer fingerprint recognition in their app either, but that’s the just start of it when it comes to the lack of innovation. Bank of Ireland has yet to introduce modern payment features like Google Pay or Apple Pay. I’ve just started playing with them myself and they are cool enough for me to feel like I’ve been missing out.
From here on out, every bank has something cool to celebrate, but Bank of Ireland are a fair bit behind the needs of Ireland’s tech-savvy customers with a dated app and a dated website. The only exception to all of this is the fact they are accepting mortgage appointments through Facetime.
Quick balance. Quick balance is one of those things that lets you appreciate how impatient people have become in recent years. By opening the AIB app, you can immediately check your bank account balance. No nonsense with passwords or codes. It’s actually really funny how quickly people will give up a bit of security for convenience and quick balance is a fantastic example of it in the real world.
AIB also offer my new favourite thing in tech; Google Pay and Apple Pay. If you’re popping into a shop to buy something you can tap your phone just like you would your card. I’ve already have some reasons to love this, which I’ll go into later.
The AIB app will unlock your data to you by way of fingerprint recognition too if you are using an iPhone. Unfortunately, this is not yet available for Android and even though a timeline has yet to be established, I don’t think AIB will wait around much longer.
Permanent TSB could so easily have fallen into the same category as Bank of Ireland, but instead, they are on track to be closer to AIB. Right now, they are really similar to Bank of Ireland in terms of their technological offering. Android Pay and Apple Pay are unavailable for customers to play with and their app doesn’t have fingerprint recognition.
Still, they launched a new site and app in 2016, arguably the best-looking site and app in Irish banking (though I might be biased; this was the bank I worked for). It’s just a pity they have yet to match the likes of AIB in terms of functionality.
They do offer some quirky things you won’t find in any other banks like card personalisation online.
N26, formerly Number26, is such a weird entry to this list. N26 is a European bank which is allowed operate in Ireland which we’ve gone on about that in the past. Their app is fantastic. You can access with fingerprint, block and unblock a lost, stolen or found bank card and categorise all your spending; whether that’s good or bad. When you buy something, you get a notification to your linked smartphone straight away. Whether that’s useful or not, I don’t actually know.
Then there’s the sign-up. Wow. To join N26, you go through a kind of banking Skype call. You answer some questions, hold your passport up to the camera and boom, you’re done. They’ll send out your Mastercard after a few days and you’re good to go.
With all these amazing features, it’s nothing short of stunning that N26 has yet to offer Android or Apple Pay. A real stumbling block for super techie bank, but they’re not alone…
I really loved N26 when it launched, mainly because of the digital onboarding and the really cool app that tells you how your spending. After a while, I just fell out of love with N26 and went back to using my Irish bank account. Fast forward a few years and I started using Revolut. Revolut describes themselves as “your digital banking alternative” and they generally do deliver on that.
First and foremost, they don’t offer Google Pay or Apple Pay which probably puts me off making them my full-time bank. Well, that and the fact they’re virtual. Another thing that put me off transferring wages into N26. But, get passed that much and Revolut is an incredible banking option.
To date, Revolut claims to have saved customers almost €170 million in fees as transferring cash across borders is super simple using their service. I use Revolut as my preferred method of buying up cryptocurrencies and also get travel insurance covered because I’m a premium member. You can buy your offer gadget insurance with them too, but for some reason, only in every EU country except Ireland; go figure.
As you would expect, Revolut sends you a card that you can use in shops and online. My top tip is that any shopping online you ever do should be paid for with a Revolut card; not your traditional bank card. That extra layer of privacy is great is a site gets hacked, just like what happened with OnePlus.
I’ll be taking a deeper look at Revolut in another post but for now, if you’re looking for something that’s not the usual banking experience available on the high street, Revolut is a great option.
The bank of trying. If Bank of Ireland and AIB had a lovechild, it would be Ulster Bank. They offer loads of innovations including Google Pay, Apple Pay and fingerprint access to the app. Still, something about the look and feel of the bank seems dated, just like Bank of Ireland.
It’s a really strange one. When you think about to Permanent TSB which looks great but doesn’t offer loads of functionality while Ulster Bank has the functionality, but doesn’t look great. That’s the power of aesthetics these days.
There’s one more thing about Ulster Bank; their opening hours. I know this has nothing to do with tech, but they’re barely ever open at a time that suits people; you know, like opening at 10am and closing at 4pm. This is compounded by the fact their online experience is just ugly. But if you’re after an accessible and digital bank in Ireland, there’s really only one you should consider…
I’ve kept KBC till last for good reason. You may have read my ‘not so impressed’ review of their “banking in minutes” account setup process. While that didn’t run too smoothly, all in all, KBC offer the best digital banking experience in Ireland. Like I mentioned when reviewing their account opening app, they do deserve some credit for trying out innovative ways of setting up accounts. It didn’t work for me but I’m sure others are getting through it smoothly, but let’s move past that and give them the attempt marks.
KBC’s app is great, allowing you to manage every aspect of your account by a simple fingerprint tap. It’s also super secure which is critical these days. To log in, you need your password and use your phone as a secondary device to verify your identity. This is a security feature which I recently pointed out is going unused by 90% of Gmail users. It’s so important and should be something you apply to as many of your online accounts as possible.
You can also play with Google Pay and Apple Pay once you create a KBC account and they even support payments with FitBit. As they don’t really want people visiting their hubs (they don’t have proper banks as such) they also offer web chat. Over the past few years, I’ve realised that web chat is a massive factor for me making tech service decisions. Maybe I’m more antisocial than I thought, but for me, typing a few messages and getting a problem resolved at 9pm by web chat is the way of the future. Some might argue that banks are too impersonal but a quick strawpoll on Twitter suggests it’s possible people need to adopt the digital mentality:
Woman complaining on #liveline about banks not providing info on handling direct debits with the snow. Signs off saying there's no info on the teletext. Are banks forgetting people or are people too slow to keep up with digital services? @talktojoe1850
— Martin Meany (@martinmeany) February 28, 2018
Of course, I know that’s a terribly small sample size, but interesting nonetheless.
Which Bank Is Best For You?
Should you pick a bank based on the amount of tech they offer you? Absolutely not. There are far more boring things I’m not going to go into which you need to consider before picking a bank. However, if you’re like me and you just want to pay for stuff with your phone, KBC is Ireland’s techiest bank, offering the best balance of services across their web and app platforms.
The truth of it all is that you should check your options. Switching bank is something you should weigh up every now and then. Check out this website from the Irish Central Bank but also look to new options on the market. My current combination is KBC and Revolut with the latter providing an extra layer of protection for online shoppers.
Which bank are you using yourself? What do you love or hate about them? Let us know in the comments below.