Which Swiss bank to choose in 2019 for somebody frugal?

It has been more than 4 years since we optimized the frugality of our bank account and credit card system in Switzerland.

At the time, we switched from the expensive Credit Suisse (for both bank and credit card fees) to the BCV combined with the Cumulus-Mastercard.

Things have evolved quite quickly in recent years in terms of digitalization and cost reduction.

That's why we took another frugal step last month by separating our bank from our credit card system in order to be the most optimal possible financially speaking.

For those who didn't follow, we switched to a system combining a Revolut credit card with the Cumulus-Mastercard. I explain all the details and the reasons of the why and how in this article (including discount codes for each card).

And the Swiss bank in all this, which is the most Mustachian in 2019?

I would admit that, as a minimalist at heart, I found our system suitable and uncomplicated with our BCV Direct Formula.

We have a private account and a Maestro card which are free when we have more than CHF 10'000 on our account, otherwise it's CHF 3.50/month (it was CHF 3 not so long ago).
In recent years, we have had to pay this amount 2-3 times a year because we were below CHF 10'000 after making a large transfer to Interactive Brokers to make our money work for us (vs. BCV using it in our place and making cash with it).

But last Wednesday, a reader (hello Raphael, and thank you!) contacted me to find out which bank I would choose in 2019. He also told me about the new Neon online bank that I hadn't heard of.

So I reviewed again what's best available in terms of Swiss (online) bank as of 2019. And meanwhile, I found you two promotional offers (the codes are in the middle and at the end of the article in case you wonder :))

What are the criteria for choosing a Swiss bank for a frugal Mustachian?

But first of all, let me define what I expect from a Swiss bank in 2019:

  • Free — because I'm frugal and the banks make enough money with our account's deposits (and I don't like to finance the bankers' Porsches)
  • Online and mobile — for efficiency reasons so as not to have to get there during inconvenient business hours
  • Secure — not to see my money go up in smoke if the bank goes bankrupt (any bank based in Switzerland has your deposits protected up to CHF 100'000 — so I avoid the small startup without guarantee, or the bank present in another country with laws I know nothing or little about)
  • Free bank transfers in Switzerland — to be able to pay friends or bills
  • Free bank transfers in the Euro zone (via SEPA):
  • Free Maestro debit card — because I already have the best credit card in Switzerland, and so I need a Maestro because there are still many places in Switzerland that refuse MasterCard and VISA
  • Free ATM withdrawals — in case I need cash, and certainly free of charge at the bank's ATMs
  • BVR payment via scan — for the efficiency that this allows rather than manually entering the 10'000 digits of the reference number :D
  • EBill Support (formerly e-facture) — to receive the maximum amount of invoices on my e-banking and pay them in one click, rather than receive by email or mail. However, it would seem that depending on the systems, it's not always possible to transfer your eBill debtors automatically (more information below in each bank's analysis)
  • Accessible physically (via real people in real offices) — that's ideally, and a little contradictory with the "100% online/mobile banking" criterion, but in case I need to talk with a real person it can be practical
  • Download of account statements in PDF format — because some institutions ask for the last 3 months, like when my bank in France did it when we bought our first multi-family rental building
  • Live push notifications — to update YNAB directly after a transaction is made, and thus always have my budget under control in real time. It also allows me to be informed directly if there is a fraudulent transaction
  • Bonus: Easy and intuitive app — not a priority compared to fees, but a bonus if that's the case
  • Bonus: Possibility to mark transactions as checked — to know where I am with YNAB about what I have entered and what not
  • Bonus: Visibility on the app's future features — because a bank must be transparent and attentive to its customers (for real) in 2019

Let me know via the comments if you see any other key criteria as a Swiss Mustachian.

Zak (Bank Cler) and Neon, my two favorite Swiss banks for 2019

Since 2018, we are lucky (for such a small country) to have access to two 100% free mobile Swiss banks.

The first to enter the market was Zak, which is an offer from Bank Cler (formerly Bank Coop).
The other solution arrived this year is the 100% mobile Swiss bank Neon.

As I find that BCV has questionable practices according to its services (reminder for new readers about the story for my mortgage), and that in addition they oblige me to keep CHF 10'000 on my checking account to enjoy zero fees otherwise it is CHF 3.50/month of fees, I have decided to do a full test of Zak and Neon in order to close my BCV account permanently. Na!

I have prepared screenshots for you from all the steps of the account creation to the first use of the account (including a special MP promo code to receive welcome cash when opening an account).

Review of Zak (Bank Cler, formerly Coop Bank)

As Zak was the first Swiss mobile bank on the market, I treat it first.

Swiss Bank Zak website homepage

Let's see how she passes the test of the frugal and Mustachian Swiss bank:

  • Free
    CHF 0 of management fees
  • Online and mobile
    There is no web application, be aware of it if it's important for you. Only a mobile app but it's more than enough for me!
  • Secure
    It's a Swiss bank with the assets of each person protected up to CHF 100'000
  • Free payment traffic in Switzerland in CHF
    And the same is true for payments in euros in Switzerland, by the way
  • Free payment traffic abroad in EUR
    With an obligation to use the SEPA system (Single Euro Payments Area), but this is the most common for every bank nowadays. According to Brigitte from Zak's Communication department, there would be no spread applied over the interbank rate. To be tested in real life :)
  • Free Maestro debit card
  • Free ATM withdrawals ☑️
    Yes BUT, only at the Bank Cler ATMs (there are many of them as you can see on this Bank Cler branches' map), otherwise it's CHF 2/withdrawal
  • BVR payment via scan
  • EBill Support 🚫
    I spoke with Brigitte Haide from Zak's Communication team and she told me that the team is aware of the importance of this feature and that they are working on it, so as to have it live this year. This is the option I'm most lacking at the moment. She also explained that their implementation of the eBill system will allow me to just login within Zak and that all my eBills will be automatically available on my personal eBill-webpage without having to re-login. Top! (to be checked, however)
  • Accessible physically (via real people in real offices)
    Big advantage because if you have a problem with Zak, you can go to any branch of the bank Cler
  • Download account statements in PDF format
    Brigitte also confirmed that it was possible to download a PDF for each month. Top!
  • Live push notifications
    And in addition, the Zak app allows you to choose your own notifications: Maestro card transactions, incoming transactions on the account, and/or outgoing transactions on the account. Very practical!
  • Bonus: Easy and intuitive app
    Everything is great even if it's not the fastest app I've seen as for the login step (on the other hand TouchID/FaceID are well supported, but you have to enable it in the user settings. I almost put a greyed check because I hadn't seen the option until today...)
  • Bonus: Possibility to mark transactions as checked ☑️
    I put a greyed check because I managed to do so by using the "Transaction grouping" ("Pots" in French) feature in a roundabout way :) As "Pots" are nothing but tags in the list of transactions (i.e. a transaction can only have one tag), I have created a "Pot" named "YNAB" and I tag each transaction with it once I have inserted it in YNAB. Easy! You can see this live in the little video I put at the end of the Zak review below
  • Bonus: Visibility on the app's future features ☑️
    I put a grayed check because it's possible to get information easily via the chat, or to share ideas with Zak using the hashtag #feedback or via email. But there is no roadmap visible on their website compared with Neon

I also asked Zak's communication department for the account closure rate because I hadn't found it on their website. Brigitte replied that it was free. Good answer :)

If you want to open an account at Zak, you can use my special code for blog readers: "SOZAK1". With this, you'll be entitled to a CHF 50 welcome cash!

And as usual, here are the screenshots from creating the account to using the app. I'm learning German these days, so the captures are in that language. But you will find the subtitles in English by clicking on the images to display the captions.

If you have any questions about Zak, don't hesitate to ask me via comments or email. There is also a ton of detailed information in the FAQ on the Zak website directly, or also in their factsheet available in German, French, and Italian.

Screenshots of my Zak account opening

Authorization of the push...

Login screen

Existing client or new...

Pre-requisites to open a Zak...

Firstname

Lastname

Gender

Phone number

Place of residence verification

Email and language

Authorization to be...

Personal data confirmation

Password setup

Password setup (bis)

Activation code received by...

Entering the activation code...

Login

Login

Entering birthdate

Entering other firstnames

Entering civil status

Entering citizenship

Defining communication...

Entering place of residence

Taxes confirmation and...

Source of funds...

Viseca terms and conditions

Viseca terms and conditions

Accepting the Viseca...

Final check of all the...

Opening hours of the...

Pre-requisites for the...

Terms and conditions for...

Terms and conditions for...

Authorization to access the...

Authorization to access the...

Swisscom transaction...

Once again the phone asks...

Virtual waiting room

Identity check

Check completed!

Terms and conditions of...

Terms and conditions of...

Contracts to sign

Contracts to sign (suite)

Registration confirmation

Digital signature

Registration completed !

Screenshots of my first use of the Zak app

UPDATE 10.07.2019
As the reader Ioana Vacaru mentioned: the account is not enabled until you receive the confirmation from Bank Cler. Only then, the section to enter your promo code appears. And once entered, you don't see the section anymore.

Zak screen at first login

User profile view

Entering promo code (CHF 50...

Entering promo code (CHF 50...

A few days after opening the account, I received my Maestro and MasterCard from Zak. As usual with Swiss banks, I received my two PIN codes in a separate letter the next day.

My new Zak debit and credit cards

Tip to mark transactions as checked in the Zak app

As a strong user of YNAB, I like to be able to mark my transactions as checked in my different e-bankings to know what I have entered or not.

With the Zak app, I created a "YNAB" pot with which I can tag all my transactions once I have entered them into YNAB.

In video it looks like that:

Neon Review (independent startup based on the Hypothekarbank Lenzburg of the Canton of Aargau)

Neon arrived on the market last summer. The app competes directly with Zak.

However, it is different because it's an independent startup that build the product. In terms of banking infrastructure, they rely on an existing bank in Aargau — the Hypothekarbank Lenzburg — which has understood the potential to open up to the world of tomorrow by supporting startup projects such as Neon.

Swiss Bank Neon website homepage

Let's see how this neo-bank passes the test of the frugal and Mustachian Swiss bank:

  • Free
    CHF 0 for management fees
  • Online and mobile
    As with Zak, there is no web application, be aware of it if it is important for you
  • Secure
    All your assets are protected up to CHF 100'000 because the bank account is established at the Hypothekarbank Lenzburg, which is a "standard" Swiss bank
  • Free payment traffic in Switzerland in CHF
    And the same is true for payments in euros in Switzerland, by the way
  • Free payment traffic abroad in EUR
    With the obligation to use the SEPA system (Single Euro Payments Area), but this is the most common for every bank nowadays. Neon applies a maximum spread of 1.5% over the interbank exchange rate
  • Free Maestro debit card 🚫
    Neon only offers a MasterCard. I almost didn't notice this point until I wrote this blogpost but for me it's a big differentiator. Their MasterCard is of no use to me because I already have the most optimal and frugal system for Swiss credit cards with Revolut combined with the Cumulus-MasterCard. On the other hand, I need a Maestro, as in Switzerland there are still many small shops that only accept Maestro or cash. So it's a minus point for me.
  • Free ATM withdrawals ☑️
    Yes BUT, although this is valid for all Swiss ATMs, it's only two free withdrawals per month, then it is CHF 2/withdrawal
  • BVR payment via scan
  • EBill Support 🚫
    Same as for Zak, I got in touch with Patric Ammann, Neon's Chief Product Officer. He explained to me that they would support eBill by the end of September 2019 at the latest. However, unlike Zak, he couldn't guarantee that everything would be automatic, but that nevertheless they were working on the easiest solution for the end customer. We'll see about that at the end of the third quarter!
  • Accessible physically (via real people in real offices) ☑️️🚫
    I almost only put a red flag here, but I added the greyed check because if there is really a problem with the banking relationship, we can always go and meet with the Hypothekarbank Lenzburg people as the account is technically opened there. If this is an important and reassuring point for you, then Zak is clearly an advantage on this point
  • Download account statements in PDF format
    Possible and accessible via the Profile>Statements section. You can have the PDF of each separate month, or of the whole year at once
  • Live push notifications ☑️
    Currently, we only receive an SMS for each expense made with the MasterCard. They plan to add push notifications with configuration in the app (e.g. only e-commerce, only transactions above a certain amount, etc.) in the future (they hope it's available by Q3 2019)
  • Bonus: Easy and intuitive app
    I personally find the interface a little more intuitive than Zak, like for example the tabbar (the navigation bar at the bottom of the app) which has a title and an icon rather than just a cryptic icon like in Zak. But overall, the two apps are both very well crafted, it's just that Neon's app seems more neat
  • Bonus: Ability to mark transactions as checked ☑️
    The functionality does not exist as such but they have a tag/transaction grouping system and as with Zak, I will use this hijacked system to mark my transactions as checked once I have entered them in YNAB (cf. video in the review below)
  • Bonus: Visibility on the future features of the app
    This is a good point for Neon who is even more transparent than Zak on their roadmap. You can see upcoming news on the Neon product page (in each section of the app and also at the bottom of the page)

I asked for the account closure fee, and Patric confirmed that it was free.

I would also like to add a point concerning Neon's communication. I love how they take on the "FUCK YOU" against the rest of the existing Swiss banking system. It feels really good!
Do you want an example?

No comments :D

It's worth it for the fun to go check the other pictures. It's right here if you look for it :D

If you think Neon Bank is more appropriate for your needs, then I have negotiated with their management team a welcome gift only for MP readers: CHF 30 of welcome cash for you by entering the code "mustachian" during the registration process (otherwise it doesn't work). It is valid until 17.07.2019. The CHF 30 will be credited to you as soon as you have transferred at least CHF 1 to your Neon account.

UPDATE 18.08.2019
The code "mustachian" is still valid until 31.12.2019, and it allows you to earn CHF 10 of welcome cash.

Same as for Zak, I prepared screenshots from the creation of my Neon account to my first use of the app. As I chose French at the beginning of the process (to have the contracts in my native language), all the captures are in French because the app takes the set language. But I added captions in English that you can read my clicking on each picture.

Also, if you have any questions about Neon, send them to me by email or directly via comments. I will answer it as soon as possible. They also have a very detailed (and very useful!) FAQ and factsheet.

Screenshots of my Neon account opening

First onboarding screen

Second onboarding screen

Third onboarding screen

Fourth onboarding screen

Fifth onboarding screen

Starting the 3-steps...

Re-insurance element on the...

Entering my personal infos

Entering my home address

Verifying that everything...

Confirmation code sent by...

Email with confirmation...

Entering the confirmation...

Entering welcome coupon code

Entering my welcome coupon...

Legal questions

Entering place of taxation

Informations about the contract, ...

So cool to not receive all...

1h more than Zak for the...

Identity verification screen

I was there early so I think...

Email alert to notify me...

Pre-requisites for the video call

Pre-requisites regarding the ID

Virtual waiting room of the...

Here we go with the identity...

SMS of the final code of the...

Some patience is required during...

Confirmation email of the...

Suite of the confirmation...

First login to finalize...

Entering the login code

Registration process...

Email with contract number

Entering the contract number...

Request to activate Touch ID...

Face ID activation

Explanation that one needs to...

Entering the wire transfer...

Wire transfer code...

Wire transfer code entered...

And finally, the app homescreen!

The Post Office in Aargau seems to take longer to deliver the mail because I still haven't received my Mastercard but it should come soon :)

Tip to mark transactions as checked in the Neon app

As with Zak, Neon offers a tag system to group transactions together. The only drawback is that with Neon's solution, you don't see the name of the tag in the list of transactions (you have to enter the detailed view of the transaction for that). So it's not very easy to see at a glance if you're up to date with the transactions entered into YNAB.

Patric (Chief Product Officer at Neon) sent me a short video explaining the process (because I haven't yet received my first transfer to Neon because of the long weekend of Pentecost...):

Conclusion (including MP's bank choice)

In 2019, the two best banks in Switzerland are for me Zak and Neon. I have compared again my current situation with all private account banking offers on Moneyland and the result is clear.

As for the MP family, we decided to make Zak our main bank for two reasons:

  1. With our credit card setup combining Revolut and the Cumulus-MasterCard, we want to keep a Maestro to withdraw cash for free if necessary in Switzerland, and also to be able to pay at certain shops who only accept this payment method
  2. I like the idea that a bank is physically accessible (and not only in Aargau) is behind Zak with the Cler branch offices' network. Also, as we will have to renew our mortgage in a few years, it may help us to be at Zak to obtain preferential proposals compared to Neon who is independent of any bank (even if they rely on a very real bank, they are not the same companies)

On our side, we will transfer my salary to Zak and our recurring transfers. And we will leave Mrs. MP's salary at the BCV until the end of 2019 in order to continue to pay certain invoices via eBill. This way, it will allow us to test how BCV's automatic transfer of eBills to Zak works.

In any case, I am happy to say "Bye bye" (not to say anything else, as Neon Bank does so well :D) for good to BCV (even if their app and e-banking are not so bad)! This is mainly due to how they acted with us during our mortgage search, and also because of their regularly rising costs.

In any case, your choice will be the right one whether you take Zak or Neon as your bank in Switzerland.

As a reminder, if you want to benefit from the special MP welcome-cash offer proposed by each bank:

  • Zak Bank: CHF 50 of welcome-cash with the code "SOZAK1"
  • Neon Bank: CHF 10 of welcome-cash with the code "mustachian" (must be entered during registration as not valid afterwards)

And you, which bank are you at? Do you have any fees? Are you thinking of switching to Zak or Neon? (even if not, I'm interested to know why!)


Note: if you choose to open an account with Zak or Neon, I will receive the same amount of compensation as your welcome-cash amount — without you paying anything more of course. It helps finance some of the costs and time I spend writing the blog.
As usual, know that I only share the services and tools that I personally use in real life. I recommend them in the hope that they will bring you as much value as they do with me.


Addendum 1
Good point from Diana who asked me whether the apps are in English or solely in the three Swiss languages. The answer is that only Neon is in English. I thought it worth an addendum :)


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