Bó review

NatWest has launched its very own digital bank, complete with a yellow debit card, a slick mobile app and a funny-sounding name.

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The 292-year-old banking group RBS has launched a brand new digital banking app that comes with a bright yellow debit card. Bó is being tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of rivalling the likes of Monzo and Revolut.

You’d be excused for feeling sceptical, but in fact, Bó does look quite promising so far.

What is Bó?

Bó is a challenger bank that forms part of NatWest (which in turn, forms part of the RBS group). Bó offers a current account, a debit card and a banking app.

It’s very much focused on helping you manage “your spending money”, which is basically what you have left every month once all the bills have been paid. Bó will be especially targeting customers that struggle to save money and have a financially sustainable lifestyle.

Bó’s name apparently means both “to live” in Danish and “cow” in Irish Gaelic, and the “ó” is pronounced like in the word “dough”.

How does Bó work?

Bó is very similar to other challenger banks. You can sign up from the app and open an account in a few minutes – you’ll usually only need an ID and won’t be credit-checked. You will then receive the card within a few days.

Features include almost all you can expect these days from a digital banking app:

  • Push notifications. Whenever there’s activity in your account, Bó will let you know right away.
  • Freeze your card from the app. The app has a “lock card” button that allows you to block it instantly if you lose it or it gets stolen.
  • Spending categorisation. Bó will assign a category to each of your transaction and tell you what you are spending most money on. You can change a transaction’s category, but you can’t personalise your categories or add new ones.
  • Budget. You can set your monthly budget for different spending categories. Bó will help you keep on top of it and tell you when you go above.
  • While competitors that have been around longer tend to offer more features (for example, Monzo allows you to split a bill with your friends or automatically round up your transactions and move your spare change into your savings account, among other things), the core features of a solid digital-only bank are all there.

    For now, Bó doesn’t offer anything more than a basic current account. This means no overdrafts, joint accounts or business accounts available.

    How does the app look?

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    How much does Bó cost?

    Opening an account with Bó and using it is mostly free:

    • Card payments. Paying with the card are free both in the UK and abroad. After all, Bó wouldn’t have many chances in this market were it to charge foreign currency transaction fees. Bó uses the Visa exchange rate.
    • ATM withdrawals. ATM withdrawals are free anywhere in the world. Unlike with most other challenger banks, no limits will apply, which makes it very competitive.
    • Replacement cards. The first two come for free. You’ll be charged £5 each from the third one onwards.

    Is Bó safe?

    Bó is as safe as NatWest. Since Bó is part of NatWest, it is a fully licensed bank and shares the same level of deposit protection (up to £85,000). More on this in our guide about the FSCS.

    Just keep in mind that, if you already have an account with NatWest, the £85,000 deposit protection limit applies across all accounts.

    Bó doesn’t sell your data to any third party providers.

    Pros and cons of Bó

    Pros

    • Full UK current account, easy to apply for and set up.
    • The app is easy to use and has some really nice budgeting features.
    • You can spend abroad with the card or withdraw cash without fees.
    • You can set a savings goal and keep your savings separate from your main account.
    • Your deposits are protected by the FSCS.

    Cons

    • Doesn’t offer anything more than a basic current account.
    • You can’t deposit cash into the account.
    • You can’t get an overdraft.

    The verdict

    Many traditional banks are rushing to incorporate some of the innovations that challenger banks have pioneered in their own products. For example, the Lloyds app now offers push notifications, while Barclays’ lets you see account balances and transactions from other banks as well. However, the RBS group has been the first to approach the problem the other way around and build a whole new challenger bank instead.

    It has certainly put some effort into bridging the gap that separates high-street banks from challenger banks. It’s still early days, but Bó looks competitive.

    It’s as free as it gets, is the only one without limits on ATM withdrawals and the app looks clean and user-friendly. It also has most of the cool features pioneered by Monzo and the others, such as spending categorisation and push notifications.

    While Monzo and Starling both offer more features and more account options, Bó has all the strength of the NatWest brand. Coupled with Bó’s new approach, practically non-existent fees and techy app features, it could be enough to at least slow down the exodus of customers moving from high-street to challenger banks.

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