Banking News

Mobile Bank N26 Launches in Switzerland

September 3, 2019 - Benjamin Manz

German mobile bank N26 is now offering euro accounts to residents of Switzerland. Independent online comparison service moneyland.ch analyzed the N26 account.

You can find an overview of smartphone banks in Switzerland here

N26 is one of a wave of online-only banks or “neobanks” which challenge the conventional retail banking model. Now, N26 is joining UK services Revolut and TransferWise and the Swiss Neon and Zak app-based accounts in offering mobile-only financial services to Swiss consumers. Switzerland is the twenty-sixth country in which N26 has launched its service. N26 claims that it already has around 3.5 million customers.

Euro-accounts for Swiss customers

N26 offers Swiss consumers a German euro-denominated account (with a German IBAN) and a Mastercard debit card. N26 also plans to offer an account denominated by Swiss francs, but will launch this account at a later date. N26 does not charge a basic fee for the account and the debit card. The account also includes 5 fee-free cash withdrawals at ATMs per month – but only in Eurozone countries and not in Switzerland. Cash withdrawals in Switzerland are subject to a 1.7% cash withdrawal fee.

Fast account opening and mobile functions

N26 claims that new customers can open accounts over their phones in a matter of minutes. As an app-based banking service, N26 delivers a number of useful functions. These include push notifications for all transactions and categorization of expenditures. N26 also supports Apple Pay.

Currency exchange and foreign transaction fees

According to N26, it uses interbank exchange rates without foreign transaction fees. Like Revolut and TransferWise, N26 promises its users currency exchange rates which are more favorable than those used by established Swiss banks. N26 also abstains from charging foreign transaction fees. By comparison, most Swiss credit cards have a 2.5% foreign transaction fee.

Differences to the euro accounts from Swiss banks

In terms of fees, N26 offers advantages over conventional Swiss banks. Swiss banks typically charge account fees for euro accounts and foreign transaction fees for cash withdrawals outside of Switzerland.

Swiss banks, for their part, have the advantage of offering a broad array of services to Swiss consumers. These include euro cash deposits and euro-denominated savings accounts, credit cards, investment solutions and stock brokerage. Swiss banks also offer Swiss-franc denominated accounts, brokerage, wealth management, mortgages, personal loans and many other financial services and are governed by Swiss banking and consumer protection laws.

Balances of Swiss accounts are guaranteed by the Swiss depositor protection scheme (esisuisse) up to 100,000 Swiss francs. N26 is covered by the German depositor protection system, which guarantees balances up to 100,000 euros.

N26 charges a 1.7% cash withdrawal fee for withdrawals in Switzerland but provides 5 free euro withdrawals in Eurozone countries free of charge. Swiss banks do not charge for Swiss-franc withdrawals from Swiss-franc-denominated accounts at in-network ATMs. It is worth mentioning, though, that many Swiss banks charge a cash-handling fee or disagio (typically 1%) for euro cash withdrawals at Swiss ATMs from euro-denominated accounts.

Differences to Swiss credit cards

N26 used the Mastercard debit card. Card payments are debited directly from the linked account, and cardholders can only charge purchases to their card up to the limit of their account balances. Swiss credit cards, on the other hand, provide cardholders with a line of credit.

Thanks to the more favorable exchange rates used and the absence of a foreign transaction fee, paying for purchases in foreign currencies is significantly cheaper with the N26 card than with a Swiss credit card.

Unlike many Swiss credit cards, the N26 card can be used with Apple Pay. Credit cards from major Swiss banks like Raiffeisen, the Zürcher Kantonalbank, UBS and PostFinance do not currently support Apple Pay. The Swiss credit card comparison lets you filter cards based on Apple Pay compatibility. Many Swiss banks, on the other hand, support the Twint mobile wallet. The N26 account and card cannot currently be used with Twint.

Differences to Revolut and TransferWise

There are no major differences between N26 and UK services Revolut and TransferWise. Like Revolut and TransferWise, N26 uses interbank exchange rates. Like Revolut, it does not charge foreign transaction fees. TransferWise, on the other hand, does charge (low) foreign transaction fees.

A major advantage of Revolut and TransferWise for Swiss users is that money can be transferred directly from Swiss bank accounts into the Swiss Revolut and TransferWise bank accounts at no cost. As with N26, Revolut and TransferWise do not provide users with their own individual Swiss bank accounts. But Revolut and Transferwise users can hold account balances in Swiss francs and use their debit cards to settle payments in Swiss francs at no cost. N26 users can make card payments in Swiss francs, but purchases are debited from their euro balances at going exchange rates.

An advantage of N26 over Revolut and TransferWise is that N26 users benefit from bank depositor protection because N26 is a licensed bank in Germany.

N26 does not charge fees for transfers within most of Europe, including Switzerland. However, the way in which transfers are made and whether or not users may pay hidden fees remains to be seen. For example, it was recently discovered that Revolut users were being charged up to 12 francs in hidden fees for certain transactions. N26 claims that there are no hidden fees for its customers.

Depositing money into an N26 account

When users make SEPA transfers from a Swiss-franc-denominated account at a Swiss bank to their euro-denominated N26 account, the costs of the transfer and the exchange rate used are determined by their Swiss bank. Depending on the Swiss bank used, the costs of transfers can be high. TransferWise users can save money by using that service to transfer money from Switzerland to their N26 account. TransferWise is an official partner of N26. Whether or not a TransferWise user would also benefit from an N26 account depends on their individual banking needs.

Evaluation by moneyland.ch

N26 is not yet a viable alternative to a Swiss bank account. In its current state, it is a niche service which will appeal to a limited number of Swiss consumers.

The biggest advantage of N26 for residents of Switzerland is that it is a fully-licensed and regulated German bank. It is one of the few German banks which offers a bank accounts to residents of Switzerland who want to make and receive deposits and transfers in euros to and from Eurozone countries. It is also the only German bank which lets Swiss applicants open accounts completely online. Transferwise provides users with personal German bank account details, but at a third-party bank. Revolut does not currently provide personal bank account details.

As a solution for making affordable card payments and cash withdrawals outside of Switzerland, N26 has a disadvantage over Revolut and Transferwise. The fact that Swiss francs must first be transferred to Germany and exchanged to euros – which costs money – puts N26 at a disadvantage against TransferWise and Revolut as a solution for low-cost international transactions.

An advantage that N26 does have over both TransferWise and Revolut is that as a German bank, its customer service is well equipped to provide customer support to German-speaking Swiss. That could give it an edge over Revolut, which has come under heavy criticism in recent months for poor customer service.

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Expert Benjamin Manz
Benjamin Manz is CEO of moneyland.ch and an independent expert on banking and finance.