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por Sheila Luther (2019-07-28)

Viola Black's adverts from earlier this year taking aim at Monzo drew plenty of reaction online - not all of it positive

Earlier this year, adverts for a new digital challenger 'bank' Viola Black popped up, with the start-up setting its sights on one of the more established players with the message: 'Move over, Monzo'.

Putting the name of your rival in a larger font size and in a more prominent place than your own logo and then not launching a product users can download until six months later is an unusual marketing strategy.

However, in the increasingly crowded world of UK challenger banks you need to do something different to get noticed.

Now though, Viola Black has an actual product you can use. 

Which means This is Money can answer the two burning questions of whether you should move over for it, and whether its offer will keep Monzo awake at night.

While it describes itself as an 'everyday current account' this is not strictly the case, as Viola Black is not a bank but has an e-money licence, and operates only a prepaid card. 

Monzo also started life as a prepaid card before it obtained a licence to become a full bank.



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Viola Black's licence means you can only spend money you load onto the card, and that money is held in a ring-fenced account at an actual UK bank. 

This should in theory mean that were it to go bust, like fellow prepaid card provider Loot, customers' money would be protected and they could get it back.

Its basic offer is not particularly eye-catching. 

Billing itself as a money management tool for everyday people, it has many of the features that are ubiquitous in the UK smartphone bank space.

This includes instant spending notifications, a clear list of your transactions, being able to lock your card easily and the ability to set up different folders to compartmentalise your spending.

It does let you set up an extra account within its app that lets you open one for a child between the ages of eight and 18, which could be useful if you want to teach your child about managing money digitally, as they can only spend what is on the card, while keeping ultimate oversight.

Viola Black's offer is a prepaid card which also allows you to hold money in different currencies for free, as well as setting up accounts for your children

And its final offer is that you can open accounts within which you can store money in different currencies. 

At this stage only euros and dollars are available for you to convert pounds into, but Indian rupees is currently in a beta testing stage.

While it is free to hold these currencies, it is not free to send money in it - unlike something like Starling's euro account launched earlier this year. 

In fact, probably the most eye-catching thing about Viola Black is its pricing list.

However it has a number of fees to be aware. Most notably it costs £4 a month, but beware of treating it like Monzo or Starling when you're abroad, as that could also be costly

Subscribing to an account costs £4 a month, while procuring an additional card and account if you want to use it for your child will cost you £2 for the physical card and £1.50 a month on top of that £4.

While you can withdraw money from a cash machine using the card, it will cost you £2.90 each time you do so and you can only withdraw £5,000 a year, and 100 withdrawals, or two a day.

Because it is a prepaid card Viola Black imposes restrictions on how much you can load and spend using it

As for the card itself, you can use it to buy something in a shop or on the bus a maximum of 3,000 times a year, spending up to £75,000. 

There is also a hard limit of 10 transactions a day, and you can only spend up to £2,500 in a 24 hour period.

Given the fact it is a prepaid card and not a bank, it appears to be more like Revolut than either Monzo or Starling. 

However, it even fares badly in that comparison because while Revolut has some upside as a travel card you can take abroad, Viola Black does not.

Making a withdrawal abroad from a cash machine will cost you £2 plus 1.5 per cent of the withdrawal amount, while the conversion rate is Mastercard's superior rate but with 3.05 per cent of the withdrawal lopped off.

And despite the fact you can convert money into other currencies free of charge you cannot unfortunately spend it that way. 

Instead, using your card abroad will charge you a basic 0.75 per cent off the transaction, while any payments below a certain minimum limit - which depends on which currency you use - will also incur a flat fee.

While Viola Black is refreshingly transparent about all the ways it will charge you for using it, the fact it does might well turn off a lot of potential users. 

And while its currency conversion might see it pick up a niche following among expats living in the UK, it might take a little more than a £4 a month prepaid card to bring the hot coral of Monzo out in a cold sweat.

Monzo vs Viola Black: How the charges stack up 
Category  Monzo  Viola Black 

Cost of holding an account? £0 £4 p/m 

Overdraft charges?  50p a day every day your account is  overdrawn by more than £20   Not offered 

Cost of withdrawing cash?  £0  £2.90 per withdrawal 

Cost of withdrawing cash abroad? £0 up to £200 a month, 3% per
withdrawal above that £2 plus 1.5% of the
withdrawal amount 

Cost of using the card abroad?  £0  0.75% of the transaction
plus a flat fee if below a
minimum amount 

Exchange rate used?  MasterCard exchange rate MasterCard exchange rate plus 3.05% 
Santander will pay 1.5 per cent on balances up to £20,000 plus up to 3 per cent cashback wireless presenter on the way rf 2 4ghz wireless presenter remote presentation usb control powerpoint ppt clicker bills. You need to put in £500 and month and have two active direct debits to qualify.

First Direct's First Account offers a £100 switching incentive to new customers. It comes with a £250 free overdraft and requires a £1,000 monthly deposit to avoid a £10 monthly fee.

M&S Bank offers £180 in gift cards to switch to its current and stay. You earn 1 point for every £1 spent on the card through the M&S Loyalty Scheme. You'd need to keep at least four direct debits active, and register for online banking and statements.

Natwest's Reward Account offers 2 per cent in rewards on seven types of household bills paid on direct debit. It comes with £2 monthly fee and requires a £1,500 minimum monthly deposit.

Nationwide's FlexDirect come with 5% interest on up to £2,500 - the highest interest rate on any current account - plus a fee-free overdraft. Both perks last for a year.

Read our full best bank accounts round-up