Best automatic savings apps 2020
Can a chatbot really help you manage your cash? These virtual personal accountants are thought to be the future of banking – here's how they work and which ones to use.
There are a whole host of interesting new automatic savings apps emerging from the fintech (that's 'financial technology' to you and me) scene at the moment.
These apps use AI 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.
But how much will these bots really improve your finances? There's only one way to find out! We've downloaded, used and reviewed the best apps below.
4 things to know about automatic savings apps
If you're considering making an account with an automatic savings bot, here's what you should know:
AI robots monitor your spending and save your change
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 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 updated on savings they make through chatbot – 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.
In fact, some apps will even save your change for you. This means that if you spent, say, £9.50 on something, the app would round it up the nearest pound (£10) and put the extra 50p in your savings account for you.
Savings apps keep your personal data safe
Although you give these apps access to your bank account, it'll be in read-only mode.
These bots can only view what's going on in your account (and report it back to you), and any cash that they siphon to your savings pot is done by a 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 you'll have the chance to cancel it, and can withdraw cash/return savings back to your current account at any time.
If the bot is operating via Facebook, don't worry – they also have no access to the data you've stored there (other than the bare basics like your name and email, but they'll already have those from your sign-up).
Similarly, Facebook has no access to your banking data (outside of what you discuss with your bot in Messenger).
Your money is safe if the app goes bust
Banks tend to be FSCS protected, meaning that if a bank goes bust, your balance is insured for up to £85,000.
These online savings apps aren't FSCS protected, but this doesn't mean your money is at risk – there are barriers put in place to make sure you're still protected.
The money saved in a virtual savings pot will be stored as digital cash by an external e-money provider, which is in turn held in an account in your name at Barclays Bank or another UK bank (most apps we've looked at work with Barclays).
Your cash is safeguarded, 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.
Your spending data may be shared in the future
These apps will never sell your data.
That said, it's worth being aware that they all have plans to use the info they gather about your spending habits to offer you financial products that will (according to their software) suit your circumstances.
Should you accept a recommendation and successfully apply for a product, the company behind the app will receive commission – part of how they intend to keep these services free in the future.
And yes, just to clarify, we've had confirmation that these apps really will always be free to download.
Best automatic savings apps
These are the best online savings apps and bots:
Best for: Saving when you're in your overdraft.
Access with: Plum's own app here.
Banks: Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Danske Bank, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, M&S, Monzo, Nationwide, NatWest, Post Office Bank, RBS, Santander, Starling, TSB and Ulster Bank.
Can you use Plum if you're in your overdraft? Yes.
How does Plum work?
You can use Plum via their dedicated app, monitoring your balance and spending throughout the month.
Every few days, it’ll deposit small amounts (or large amounts, depending on your balance) into virtual money pockets.
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.
To withdraw cash from your savings, just tap “withdraw” on one of the money pots in the app and it’ll be with you in less than 24 hours.
Plum also allows you to round spends up to the nearest pound and save the change, as well as set up an automatic deposit to your Plum account whenever you get paid.
Best for: Improving money management and getting out of debt.
Access with: App available here.
Banks: American Express, Bank of Scotland, Barclays, Capital One, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Metrobank, Nationwide, Natwest, RBS, Santander and TSB.
Can you save with Cleo if you're in your overdraft? No.
How does Cleo work?
Cleo focuses on providing (some pretty impressive!) analysis of your spending, such as weekly overviews, approaching bill payments and pie charts to indicate where your cash is going.
It can help you to set savings goals too, so this one is a good option for anyone looking to have better control of 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's chatbot is arguably the most sophisticated of the ones we've featured in this list. You can manually type questions (rather than choosing from a series of preset options), and if you ask Cleo something like, "How much did I spend on bills last month?", you'll get a surprisingly accurate answer.
Finally, if you upgrade to Cleo Plus you'll unlock a few extra features, like the ability to earn cashback and to have your spends rounded up to the nearest pound.
However, at £5.99 a month, we recommend you look at how much cashback you could actually earn before deciding to pay for Cleo Plus.
Best for: Compatibility with app-based bank accounts.
Access through: Chip's own app.
Banks: Barclays, Co-operative Bank, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Metro Bank, Monzo, Nationwide, Natwest, RBS, Revolut, Santander, Starling and TSB.
Can you use Chip if you're in your overdraft? Yes.
How does Chip work?
Chip monitors 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 afford it right now).
If you want to save more or less, you can tell the bot or even make a manual transfer (although, given that the app doesn't pay any interest, you're better off using a savings account).
Your pot of cash is instant access and any withdrawals will land in your current account the same day if you make it before 5pm (your money will arrive the next working day if you make the withdrawal after 5pm or over the weekend).
It's worth knowing it takes around seven days after signing up before you can start putting money aside with Chip, as your bank needs to first verify the direct debit (which is how the bot saves on your behalf).
And, compared to the other apps on this list, Chip is also compatible with the most app-based banks: Monzo, Revolut and Starling.
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?
Save over £650 in a year with the 1p savings challenge – it's the next easiest way to save after automatic bots!
Disclaimer: these apps in this guide are not banks.