Best automatic savings apps and bots
Can a chatbot really help you manage your cash? These virtual personal accountants are thought to be the future of banking – here's how it works.
There’s a whole slog of interesting new automatic savings apps emerging from the FinTech scene at the moment (that’s 'financial technology', in case you're wondering).
These apps use intelligent software to understand your spending habits, in the hope of helping you improve your money management, and even start saving some cash in the process.
Oh, and you'll also be hooked up with your own personal savings chatbot who you can chat to about your finances when you feel like it!
But how will these bots help improve your finances? There's only one way to find out! We've downloaded, used and reviewed the best in this guide.
What’s on this page?
6 things to know about automatic savings
We all know the key to being better with your money is to keep an eye on your spending, but sometimes logging into your online banking is too painful. The creators of automatic savings apps reckon the solution to this is to let robots – sorry, 'digital personal savings assistants' – do it for you.
These bots will use a clever algorithm to assess your spending, see how much cash you can afford to spare, and squirrel it away for you in a virtual savings pot. They'll keep you up to date on savings they make through live chat – either via Facebook or their own app.
The idea is that if a few quid is saved every few days, you're not likely to miss it, and will start building up a nice little savings packet without actually having to do anything.
Although you give these apps access to your bank account (which might ring alarm bells for some of you), it'll be in read-only mode. These bots can only view what's going on in your account and report back to you, and any cash that they siphon to your savings pot is done by direct debit that you sign up to when you open your account.
You'll be notified when any amount is about to be saved and have the chance to cancel it, and can withdraw cash/return savings back to your current account at any time.
These bots also have no access to your Facebook data (bare basics like name and email, but they'll already have those from your sign-up), and likewise Facebook has no access to your banking data (outside of what you discuss with your bot in messenger).
If the app goes bust, you won't be at risk
It's worth knowing that these apps aren't FSCS protected (if a bank goes bust, you're insured for up to £85,000 thanks to FSCS). But this doesn't mean if the worst was to happen you'd lose your cash – there are barriers put in place to make sure you're still protected.
Any money saved in a virtual savings pot will be stored as digital cash by an external e-money provider which is then held in an account in your name at Barclays bank (every app we've looked at works with Barclays).
Your cash is ring-fenced, meaning no one can get their hands on it apart from you. If one of these apps were to go bust, Barclays would simply return your cash to you.
Chip offers 1% interest on anything you save with them, and you have the option of increasing this to 5% if you refer friends (an additional 1% for each referral).
We've blagged STS readers an instant 5% on their Chip account when you sign up using our special link (see below for details).
At the moment, you can't earn interest with any of the other apps mentioned in this guide, but they all have plans to begin offering in the future.
These apps will never sell your data, but it's worth being aware that they all have future plans to begin using info they gather about your spending habits in order to start offering you financial products that will (according to their software) suit your circumstances.
This can mean anything from credit cards and savings accounts to things like utility bills! Taking a commission when you accept a recommendation is how these companies plan to start making money while keeping their services free.
Despite this we've had confirmation that these apps will always be free to use.
You can't game the system!
If you’re a savvy saver you're probably already thinking about how to game these apps to milk them for all their worth, but you should know that the software they've created is pretty game-proofed. Sadface.
If, for example, it crossed your mind to try attaching a savings account to one of these apps in the hope of earning double interest, they’d be able to sniff this out sharpish and close your account.
Access through: Chip's own app (but they now have a Facebook messenger bot too if you prefer)
Banks: Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Lloyds, NatWest, Nationwide, RBS, TSB, Halifax, First Direct, Co-operative Bank and Metro Bank.
Can I use Chip if I’m in my overdraft?: Yes (but only on iOS)
When you sign up through our special link, you’re automatically given a 5% interest rate on your Chip savings pot. You can then earn £10 each time you get a friend to sign up.
Chip works by monitoring your incomings and outgoings, and every few days it'll work out an affordable amount to save on your behalf (you'll get the option to cancel if you can't spare the cash this time round). If you want to save more or less you can let the bot know or even manually transfer up to £100 a day.
If the app accidentally causes you to go over your overdraft limit, Chip will pay any charges and give you £10 on top for your troubles!
If you're using Chip with iOS rather than Android, you can now save even when you're overdrawn (although the £10 gift above won't apply, obvs).
Your savings are instant access and any withdrawal will happen the same day if before 2pm, and the following day if after 2pm (or at weekends).
It's worth knowing it takes around 7 days after signing up before you can start saving with Chip, as your bank needs to first verify the direct debit (which is how the bot saves on your behalf).
Any drawbacks?: Your first saving can take a while to come through, and if you want to switch bank accounts, you need to close your account completely and start again.
Access with: Facebook messenger
Banks: NatWest, RBS, Santander, HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, Metro Bank, First Direct, Halifax, Citibank, Nationwide, TSB, Bank of Scotland and the Co-Operative Bank.
Can I use Plum if I’m in my overdraft?: Yes
Plum works solely through Facebook messenger, monitoring your balance and spending throughout the month. Every few days, it’ll deposit small amounts (or large amounts, depending on your balance) into a virtual savings pot.
When using Plum you can save when you're in your overdraft, and even set a barrier to avoid being hit with any unarranged overdraft fees.
Like Chip, Plum are so confident they won't incur you any overdraft-related charges that they promise to reimburse you if they do.
Obviously, this promise doesn't protect you from yourself – if you're charged an unarranged overdraft fee due to a payment you made yourself, you're on your own.
To withdraw cash from your savings, just ask Plum ‘withdraw £X’ on messenger, and it’ll be with you in less than 24 hours.
For every 3 friends you invite to sign up to Plum, they'll put £25 in your savings account.
Any drawbacks?: Plum aren't offering any interest on savings yet.
Access through: Facebook messenger
Banks: NatWest, RBS, Santander, HSBC, Lloyds, Barclays, Metro Bank, First Direct, Halifax, Nationwide, TSB.
Can I use Cleo if I’m in my overdraft?: No
Cleo doesn’t come with a savings pot, instead focussing on providing (some pretty impressive!) analysis of your spending – such as weekly overviews, approaching bill payments and a pie charts to indicate where your cash is going.
Therefore, this one is a good option for anyone looking to have better control on their finances. If the thought of checking your bank statements gives you the shivers but you know you could do with keeping tabs on your cash a bit better, this could be the one for you.
Cleo is also a Facebook chatbot (so there’s no additional app to download), and of all the bots in this list, it's the most sophisticated. For example, you can ask Cleo questions like "How much did I spend on bills last month?" and you'll get a surprisingly accurate answer.
Although Cleo seems like a good option for those looking to pull themselves out of debt, one major flaw is that the system doesn't support overdrafts at the moment.
Any drawbacks?: No savings function and the service doesn't support overdrafts.
Best for: Saving towards a specific goal
Access through: Folio's own app
Banks: Any UK bank, as long as you have a valid debit card
Can I use Folio if I’m in my overdraft?: No
Folio is different from the others in that it's not a chatbot, it can't access your banking data and you call the shots on how much you choose to save and how often.
With Folio, you create short-term tangible saving goals and the app will start saving daily, weekly or monthly without you having to do anything.
Unlike the other services, you sign up to folio by scanning your debit card (rather than logging in through your online banking), so it has no access to your banking data at all. As you yourself set the amount you’d like to save and how frequently (daily, weekly or monthly), Folio doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your finances.
You can't save with Folio if you're already in your overdraft (or save from a credit card either), but they've confirmed that if any overdraft charges are incurred by their deposits, they'll foot the bill.
Folio asks you to name and categorise your saving goals when you set them up, and this is because there are plans in future to start offering deals to users that relate to their saving goals.
Any drawbacks?: No interest offered on savings.
Still unsure which of these apps will work out best for you? Why not try signing up to them all?
Using a few of these apps simultaneously won't affect how they work, and you'll be able to tell within a few weeks which best suits your needs. And they're free, so why not?
Have you started using automatic savings apps? Let us know your experiences below.