Tested for you: The best banking apps for your finances

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days.

Tested for you: The best banking apps for your finances

This article is adapted from the business magazine Capital and is available here for ten days. Afterwards it will only be available to read at www.capital.de. Like stern, Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

On average, German smartphone users have installed more than 30 apps for private use. The offering for financial and banking transactions in particular has developed rapidly - and the leading providers are continually improving it. This is shown by the sixth comprehensive study of the most important banking apps on the domestic market, which the Munich Institute for Asset Development (IVA) created exclusively for Capital. A total of 33 apps from three categories were examined: classic banks, neobanks and independent financial apps. Testers checked the customer experience in two disciplines, namely “account management and functionality” and “service”.

Nine out of ten Internet users now handle their banking matters online: check account balances, make transfers, manage standing orders. A user-friendly online banking app is therefore particularly important. But other functions such as sales notifications, the integration of credit cards or a view of the securities status in the portfolio are also becoming increasingly important for customers. What many people used to do at home on the computer, they now do on their smartphone, according to a survey by the industry association Bitcom. “Online banking is now smartphone banking,” it says.

The vast majority of people - especially younger people aged 16 to 29 - almost always carry access to their bank or banks with them. The expectation is increasing that digital financial companions are just as easy to use as video streaming or online shopping. The loyalty to a bank's brand becomes less relevant, as does the - already shrinking - branch network or advice at the counter. What is important is what the app offers technically and in a user-friendly manner.

This benefit is also evident when analyzing the best banking apps: "The purely online banks have become category winners for the first time this year thanks to their smart applications and have overtaken the house banks," explains IVA board member Christian Apelt, explaining the test results. "The mobile banks have improved significantly in the core banking functions - by more than six percentage points - but have also expanded their offering."

In the universe of mobile banks, C24, as the bank of the comparison portal Check24, maintains its first place with 83.9 out of 100 points (after 80 in 2023). She is followed by the international provider Bunq, which puts N26 in third place. All three achieved the top rating of five stars for classic bank orders and functionality, each with more than 50 points out of a possible 70. Four of the remaining five providers also achieved well over 40 points. In the service area, regressions in communication are noticeable: four out of eight mobile banks can be contacted directly with customers via chats alone.

In the field of established banks, eight apps from 17 providers received five stars in the overall evaluation - followed by eight apps with four stars. The Sparkasse app once again stands out as the overall winner by a significant margin this year (90.6 points out of 100). “Functionally, almost everything is offered here, and the service offering is also pretty complete,” explains Apelt. The savings bank is also one of four of the 17 house banks that are opening what actually defines the business model of the financial apps: the multi-bank capability, which integrates several accounts from different institutions into the app and allows the respective status to be tracked. As the winner, the Sparkasse even offers active transactions between accounts.

Among the traditional banks, there was the most change in the overall impression of the quality level. While the Deutsche Bank app was overtaken by a trio of BW Mobile Banking (82.7 points), HVB Mobile Banking (81.5) and Commerzbank Banking (81.3), the Volks- und Raiffeisenbanken improved noticeably. They jumped from 12th to 5th place with a new version of their VR smartphone app and thus gained one star. Comdirect, on the other hand, loses one star and ends up in ninth place, with ING Banking to go, Norisbank and Targobank also losing slightly in the ranking.

“It is noticeable that some apps were very busy with innovations and others only optimized performance without introducing new features,” says Apelt. The more applications become standard - such as recording a transfer order with a photo - the less weight they are given in the evaluation in the study alongside new features. Push notifications for account balances and sales, for example, are strikingly new and correspondingly highly rated. Commerzbank is one of the providers that has worked its way up from the midfield to fourth place over the last few years with continuous new features, says Apelt. Postbank, on the other hand, continued to decline.

If the apps offer a greater overview of account transactions, this will suit customers who want to set specific savings goals or spending stops. In addition to the classic analysis function that is already frequently offered, which categorizes and then evaluates entries and exceptions in budget planners, warning messages can be added as soon as a set mobility budget has been exhausted. For control purposes, individual providers also visualize the account history in a graphic. Looking at a severe rash can help you assess your own behavior as well as predict upcoming debits.

Since interest has been paid on savings again, individual banks such as ING have reported credits on their own special accounts as an additional service. Others create real or virtual savings pots in subaccounts to pay for leisure or vacations. Among online banks, Bunq customers can now set up savings plans in addition to securities trading, while N26 has announced that it will also offer depots in addition to savings aids and crypto accounts. The DKB has also jumped on this trend towards securities trading and has now modernized its apps into one.

For a long time, security was not an issue with banking apps. However, last fall the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bafin) warned of increasing Trojan attacks on German banking apps. Cybercriminals try to lure customers to fake bank websites or financial apps in order to obtain login details, or malware sends push notifications to obtain access codes. Technically, the apps are still considered to be much less vulnerable than classic online banking because of the device connection and frequent two-factor authentication.

The trend is likely to continue in the future towards smartphones increasingly replacing bank branches. According to a 2023 survey by Bitcom, more than 40 percent of Germans already have their main account at an online bank without branches, or wanted to move there. More than every second German citizen also assumes that in a few years there will no longer be any bank branches - 50 percent say that they would then not be missing anything. If artificial intelligence also simplifies and accelerates the lending processes in the future, there will probably be no further reason for on-site advice. The winning app is already called “Sparkasse – your mobile branch”.

This is how it was tested

The Munich Institute for Asset Development (IVA) examined 33 banking apps for Capital with the versions that were on the market in Germany in January 2024 (see table: This is how the best score). They are divided into three categories: apps from traditional branch and online banks, apps from so-called mobile banks with their own accounts, and mobile offers from independent financial apps that integrate accounts across banks. Because the processes are largely identical, no distinction was made between Apple and Android apps. A maximum of 100 points could be achieved.

Two test areas

For the two disciplines examined, banking transactions and functionality (70 percent weight) and service (30 percent weight), the tests were carried out using existing and newly opened accounts, demo versions and inquiries from providers.

Banking and functionality

In this discipline, the operation of transfers - such as entering data via QR code, photo or voice -, the handling of standing orders and direct debits, or settings for sales notifications were examined. It was also checked how savings accounts, deposits or crypto assets are listed and integrated, or whether loans and their conditions can be viewed on an ongoing basis. The functionality includes the consistency of the page structure and the comprehensibility of the navigation as well as requirements for passwords and secure release procedures for transactions. Apps can also score points with the integration of multiple accounts (multi-bank capability) and with special features such as dark mode or incognito mode, which protects private numbers from prying eyes. For the first time, access to sub-accounts and the outlook for upcoming debits were also taken into account. Reviews in the app stores are also included in the overall rating.

Service 

In this section, features such as the range of mobile mailboxes or the functionality of budget planners and household books as well as the branch and ATM search were examined. This also includes contact options via email, telephone or chat, which are usually important to customers.

Capital rating/seal

Apps that achieved a total of at least 75 points in the test received the highest rating of five stars. Providers with a four or five star rating have the opportunity to purchase a capital seal and use it to advertise themselves. More detailed information about the conditions of these seals can be found at capital.de/siegel.

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