How does this ethical current account compare to other UK high street banks?
One of the biggest impacts we can make to the causes that matter to us is to change where our money sits. Though the biggest impact comes with large sums of cash in things like our pension or other investments, there are also ethical options for our day-to-day banking.
The leading option in the UK is Triodos Bank. I’ve had the current account for a few weeks now so I’ve been able to check out the app and other functions. In this review I’ll share a little more about the account and app to help you decide if it’s for you.
Watch my video review or keep reading
Why ethical banking matters
If you’re like me, there’s probably something you care about that’s bigger than your day-to-day life. It could be concerns about climate change, worries about human rights abuses, or issues with how organisations treat staff.
Now you can take personal actions to combat this. Maybe you recycle, buy Fairtrade foods or avoid Amazon. These all make a difference, even if it’s only a small impact.
But if you keep your money with one of the big high street banks it’s possible that cash is used to finance companies, individuals and countries through investments and loans that contradict all your good work.
The likes of Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Lloyds and Natwest will invest your money in things such as fossil fuels, nuclear weapons and the arms trade.
So if you don’t want this to happen you need to ditch the mainstream banks for a more ethical alternative.
What is Triodos?
Triodos Bank is an online-only bank, so there are no branches. It started in the Netherlands in 1968 but came to in the UK in 1995. The current account launched in 2017.
The bank says its mission is to proactively and positively impact social, environmental and cultural change. This is largely through using the money saved or invested with the bank to fund projects.
The ethical approach continues through every other aspect of the bank. For example, you get a debit card made of renewable resources rather than the usual plastic, which makes it biodegradable and recyclable.
However, this all also means the account comes with a monthly fee (more on this in a moment).
Triodos regularly tops the list of ethical banks from places like Ethical Consumer and is transparent about where it invests funds. You can see a map of these within the app.
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Triodos current account fee
With most other current accounts that charge a monthly fee you’re getting some kind of freebie or financial reward every month, or it can be avoided by depositing a set amount into the account on a regular basis.
That’s not the case with Triodos. The £3 a month charge pays purely for the account. There are no extra benefits.
This might seem strange as we’re used to free banking as standard. That’s not the norm around the world – lots of countries charge for all their current accounts.
But if you’re not paying for the account, someone else is. Most banks will make money from customers stuck in overdrafts, so this is a fairer way to fund the ongoing costs.
Other than this fee you shouldn’t really be hit with any other charges, though the following are worth knowing about:
If you absolutely need to have an overdraft then the 18% rate with Triodos is going to be one of the cheapest you can find. You can get 0% buffers elsewhere though if you’ll only likely to go a little overdrawn.
Using Triodos abroad
You’ll be charged 2.5% to use your debit card overseas, so it’s worth looking at an additional debit or credit card for holidays.
Triodos welcome offer
There isn’t a switching offer, but you can get a welcome voucher if you are referred by an existing customer.
Another £25 will be given to a charity chosen by the person who refers you, and you can refer friends too once you are set up.
It’s a new offer so it might be extended or stopped – I’ll update here if or when this happens.
Opening a Triodos account
The application process was pretty simple – though it took a while. It’s all online and you need to fill in the usual forms detailing things like your address history and National Insurance number.
I had to wait a week before I then got an email to activate the next stage, which required submitting ID to be checked. Once this was confirmed it took a few more days for the account to be opened and to get the sort code and account number.
But to use it I still needed to wait for the debit card in the post and for online banking details. This includes a “digipass” (a bit like those dreaded card reader type devices but you don’t actually need to insert your card), and this was required to authenticate the app.
It’s worth noting that also be credit checked as part of the application. Looking at my three credit reports, this will be Experian. Neither the search nor account are showing on my TransUnion or Equifax reports, so that’s also worth bearing in mind if you’re thinking of having Triodos as your only account.
Though the ethical side of Triodos are probably the most important consideration, you still need to be able to do what you need to do with a bank. Here are the key pros and cons.
Triodos app and online banking
The app looks decent and is easy to navigate – in part because it’s very simple. The website has been updated in July 2021 to look and work in the same way, and is a huge improvement from the previous version. At the time of writing you might have to access the old system for some features, though you won’t need to log in separately if this happens.
The app allows both Face or Touch ID as a shortcut to opening it up. There’s also a QR reader which you can use to open online banking without having to find your digipass.
You can set up and amend payees easily within both the app and the online portal. I tried a few transactions and it was a lot slower than I’m used to with Starling – but the money had moved within an hour.
To make payments you will need the digipass for anything over £250 – a bit of a pain if you are out and about. The daily limit is £20,000.
Most banks are now offering you the option to freeze your debit card – handy if you can’t find it and are worried it’s been lost or stolen. And you can do this with Triodos (kind of).
Rather than a button to switch the freeze on and off, you can access a code in the app to text to Triodos that will do this. So it’s an extra step but you get the same results.
There aren’t additional controls you see with some banks such as blocking gambling transactions or online payments.
The app won’t send you instant notifications to your phone when you’ve spent with the debit card or received money as you do with Starling and Monzo.
However you can set up lots of different text alerts including when you:
- Use your card
- Receive money
- Go below £100
- Don’t have enough money in your account for a standing order or Direct Debit
- Go overdrawn
At the moment turning these on and off is still in the old online banking, but it’ll hopefully be moved to the app soon.
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Triodos are paperless (as you’d expect) but you can export bank statements from the online banking.
Third party connections
You’ll probably already be familiar with quite a few of the third-party apps that via something called Open Banking will help you analyse your spending and boost your savings.
These apps tend to work with all the leading banks, but sadly most don’t currently connect to Triodos. Here’s a list of the key fintech apps and whether they do or don’t work.
- Chip – No
- Cleo – Yes
- Curve – Yes
- Emma – No
- Money Dashboard – No
- Plum – No
- Snoop – No
- Yolt – No
Paying in cash or cheques
If you want to pay in cash you’re out of luck. Instead you’ll need to pay it into a different bank and transfer it. Cheques will need to sent via freepost.
As with most banks now you won’t automatically get a chequebook. but you can request one from the Triodos call centre.
Apple and Google Pay
You also can’t add your Triodos debit card to Apple or Google Pay. There is however a way around this using the smart card Curve. Add Triodos to this, and then add your Curve card to your phone and it’ll take money from your account when you tap your device to pay.
Triodos is part of the FSCS, meaning any money up to £85,000 is protected by the government.
What’s missing from the app
There are a number of features you might be used to that the Triodos app doesn’t provide.
For a start there’s aren’t any budgeting or tracking tools like you get with Monzo or Starling. That’s a shame but you can get this if you sign up to Cleo. In fact, this is probably better if you’re using cashback credit cards for most of your spending.
There’s also no equivalent of Monzo’s Pots or Starling’s Spaces to help split money out, or auto-savings features such as roundups. Again that’s a negative, and you can’t even substitute them via apps like Plum and Chip.
You also can’t copy and paste account details or see your card number in the app – all extras it would be great to see at some point.
Is Triodos any good?
In terms of an ethical bank account you can’t get any better. There are some alternatives (listed below) but they won’t be as open and proactive in how they are trying to make the world a better place as Triodos are.
The app and online banking are certainly easy to use, though you do need the extra digipass pad to make some transactions and payments in and out seem slower than elsewhere – which is all a bit annoying.
As is the current lack of extra features and connectivity to some great FinTech apps. If you’re already using them or have an account with Monzo or Starling you will likely miss this.
But it will do the basics well, and there’s no reason why you can’t use Triodos and your main account for your salary and bills, while setting up one of the other digital banks as a spending account.
The positives from this bank are potentially bigger than those you get from any other current account – albeit you won’t see that reflected in your balance which will be £36 worse off than a fee-free account elsewhere.
Instead you’ll know that you aren’t just contributing to positive social and environmental change, you’re actively stopping your money from funding practices that go against your values.
Is that worth £36? I’d say so. And there’s no reason why you can’t still get some of those other perks from other banks – just try not to leave money in those accounts.
Alternative ethical current accounts
If Triodos isn’t for you, or if you want to have more than one current account (which I think is a very good idea), then there are other current accounts that score decently for ethics.
Nationwide and any other building society will be worth looking at. Since they tend to focus their lending on mortgages you won’t see your money being used to fund “bad” businesses.
Starling and Monzo also do better than the standard banks, though this is in part due to their size which means they don’t have the cash to lend out. Even so, Starling in particular has environmental and social polices in place that make it a decent bet.
You could also look at Co-operative Bank and Metro which Ethical Consumer still rank above the rest.