What’s the best mobile banking app?

Two thirds of us (66%) could manage if our bank didn’t have a branch, according to our latest poll at MoneySuperMarket, suggesting many of us are happy with online and telephone banking.

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But as online banking moves from web browsers to app stores, banking apps could become a key factor in choosing a bank account – so who offers the best?

Here’s a look at how each of the big banks’ free apps measure up, and what some of their users here at MoneySuperMarket think about them…

Barclays

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry

Features: Check your balances (on savings, loans, credit cards and current accounts), monitor recent transactions, transfer funds between accounts, make payments to existing payees and locate nearby branches and cash machines.

Barclays Mobile Banking can be installed on up to three devices at once and allows you to call the bank directly from the app on smartphones – the call centre will even recognise who you are.

User review: Laura Howard, our money editor, said: “I use Barclays’ banking app, which is great. It sets out my current accounts, ISA and Barclaycard balances one under the other as soon as I’ve entered by 5-digit passcode. I can then go into any of the accounts and see recent transactions. The only thing I can’t do it pay my credit card bill and set up new payees on my current account who aren’t already on my list.”

NatWest/RBS

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone

Features: Check balances on all products held with the bank, monitor recent transactions, pay a person or a bill and transfer money to the phone numbers of anyone else using the app or who has a Visa card (app users receive the money directly to their account, Visa card holders must collect payment using their card).

You can also view nearby NatWest/RBS branches and cash machines and see details of other accounts, such as NatWest/RBS loans. And if you have left the house without your bank card by accident, you can access cash from an ATM using a PIN code sent to your phone.

The NatWest and RBS apps are identical in function and general design, they just use different colours and logos. Both can only be used on one device at a time.

Although you won’t need the app to qualify, if you are not registered with online banking at NatWest, you won’t be eligible for its Cashback Plus Loyalty programme - with which you can earn up to 5% cashback at participating reatilers. You can read more about the programme in Rachel Wait's article.

User review: Steve Allen, our video editor, uses the RBS app and said: “I like being able to transfer money into my savings account, and then use it as a budgeting method. It’s also quick to use/check.

“I don’t like that you can’t add new payees on it (you have to log in from desktop), and I don’t like that removing accounts on it isn’t possible.”

HSBC

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry

Features: Check your current account balance, your six most recent transactions and view a mobile optimised version of HSBC’s online banking site.

User review: Steph Massey, on our money team, said: “I used to have an HSBC app which you could use for making transfers and payments, but you still had to use your security fob to log in.

“When I got my iPad I tried to download the app but it wouldn’t let me use it on two devices. Since then they only seem to have a fast balance app, which you can only view balances on, so it’s not really helpful at all.”

Note: HSBC recently (August 28) updated its mobile banking app for iPhone. It now allows HSBC Personal Internet Banking customers to view account balances, up to 90 recent transactions, make payments and transfer money between HSBC accounts.

Lloyds

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry

Features: Check current account and savings account balances, credit card limits and recent transactions. Make payments to new and existing payees, transfer funds between current accounts and savings accounts, locate branches and cash machines.

User review: Ellie Johnston-Price, our office manager, uses the Lloyds TSB app and said: “Its logo makes it easy to detect in among my thousand apps when searching for it, and it remembers my user ID for easy logging on – if I want it to.

“Your account section is neatly set out displaying all accounts with a balance on each and your sort code and account number for easy access. From this screen you can apply for a savings account if you want. I find it really easy and use it all the time.”

TSB

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry

Features: The high street's newest bank has an app too, and there's even a handy demo of the app on its website for you to see it in action for yourself (see here). The app allows users to view balances and transaction histories on "most" of your UK TSB accounts, make payments to new and existing payees, manage your overdraft, check your mortgage balance and find TSB branches and cash machines.

First Direct

Platform: iPhone, Android

Features:  Check account balances, your last 90 transactions, make bill payments to existing payees, transfer funds between your UK accounts.

User review: Neal Cross, on our life insurance team, has used the First Direct app on Android.  He said: “The trouble is, it’s based on the Apple iPhone app, so the layout/look/feel is similar to an iPhone and much of the Android functionality is missing. For example, the ‘menu’ or ‘back’ buttons don’t do what you would expect them to do!

“Generally speaking though, the apps are useful and functional, but restrictive about some of the things you can and can’t do.”

Santander

Platform: iPhone, Android

Features: Check account and credit card balances, latest transactions, transfer funds between accounts, pay an existing payee, view, amend and cancel payments and transfers, locate your nearest branch and split a bill.

User review: Nicki Parry in our PR team uses the Santander app, and said: “When you’re logged-in you can do pretty much anything you can do on internet banking as long as it doesn’t require much to set up! For example, you can do things like make a payment, as long as the payee is already set-up via internet banking.

“The worst thing about the app is the way it displays your bank account information. It shows all the ins and outs but not a running total of your account so you cannot see if your balance is running close to £0 by using the app alone unless you figure out all the outs versus the ins!”

Halifax

Platform: iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone.

Features: Check your balance and transaction history, transfer money between your own Halifax accounts, make payments to new and existing payees, manage an existing overdraft and apply for an Online Saver Account.

Although you won’t need the app to qualify, if you are not registered with online banking at Halifax, you won’t be eligible for the bank's new Cashback Extras scheme which starts rolling out to new and existing customers from mid-September. This scheme could earn you more than £100 a year, so find out more in Melanie Wright's article

User review: Richard Cunliffe on our compliance team uses the Halifax app on Android, and said: "You’re able to make payments and check balances on the move which is its primary purpose. I love the ability to set up new payees on the mobile app which isn’t a feature some others offer. Other features include finding the nearest ATM which doesn’t just limit it to Halifax ATMs (thankfully!) It does offer really powerful filtering results enabling you to find ATMs that offer mobile phone top up, those that don’t charge a fee or those that are open!

"The most frustrating thing is that your credit card balance isn’t shown on the home screen and requires you to drill down to see it, Current accounts, savings and mortgage balances are all displayed. The app is a mobile webpage embedded within an app, rather than a true app, which means it’s sometimes fiddly to use and definitely requires a strong mobile signal."

Verdict

Lloyds, TSB and Halifax score highly because they allow you to make transfers to both existing and new payees, unlike their competitors.

Barclays’ app seems to be the most comprehensive and allows for multiple devices. While it doesn’t allow you to send cash to a phone number like the NatWest/RBS app, Barclays does have a standalone app for this, called Pingit.

At the moment, NatWest/RBS are the only banks offering a Windows Phone version of their app. If Barclays can crack that, then it’ll offer the full package.

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