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Banking apps: The case study for a digital finance standard

Executive Summary

Checking and savings accounts are one of the primary tools that consumers use to manage their financial lives, and the majority of consumers use a mobile banking app. A nationally representative Consumer Reports (CR) survey of 2,097 U.S. adults conducted in February 2023 found that 75% of Americans use one or more banking apps. Such apps allow users to check their balances; monitor their transactions; transfer and receive money; locate physical locations like ATMs, branches, and partner retail stores; pay bills; deposit checks; connect with customer service; and more.

This study builds on CR’s recent evaluations of peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps and buy now, pay later (BNPL) services by applying CR’s Fair Digital Finance Framework to evaluate banking apps. We evaluated the banking apps across six principles of the Framework: Safety, Privacy, Transparency, User-Centricity, Support for Financial Well-Being, and Inclusivity. This evaluation explores the mobile banking apps, websites, and features related to checking and savings products of five large, traditional banks (Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo) and five digital banking providers (Albert, Ally, Chime, Current, and Varo).


We identified five key findings with numerical ratings based on those evaluations:

1. Most traditional banks charge maintenance fees; most digital banking providers don’t: Most digital banking providers offer free checking and savings accounts without maintenance fees, while few traditional banks do. Digital banking providers also tend to offer higher interest rates on their savings accounts. All five digital banking providers offer free checking, compared to only one of the five traditional banks. The costs of financial services matter, particularly for low-income consumers. Maintenance fees chip away at the disposable income available to consumers. Low interest rates on savings accounts can inhibit wealth-building opportunities. To avoid banking fees, many consumers choose not to use formal deposit accounts and lose access to important conveniences like electronic payments and remote deposit.

2. Data sharing needs controls and transparency: Most banking service providers tend to share more data than needed to deliver their core service, while only some banking apps offer the ability to opt out of targeted advertising. While these apps may provide conveniences to consumers through customized services and targeted offers, data sharing with third parties and across broader corporate structures leaves consumers vulnerable to predatory practices based on intimate details gathered about their financial lives. This finding represents the biggest opportunity for improvement for the industry; none of the 10 banking apps received high scores.

3. Inconsistent availability of digital tools for financial well-being: Traditional banking apps typically offer more financial well-being tools and features than digital banking providers offer. We reviewed the apps for the following tools: automated savings features, such as setting automatic transfers to savings or round-up savings, where transactions are rounded up to the nearest whole dollar and the change automatically directed to savings; the ability to send a portion of the user’s direct deposit to savings; budgeting tools; goal-setting features; and spending indicators. Although we found that a number of apps do provide a number of these features, only three banking apps we evaluated offer all five of these tools directly in the app.

4. Accessibility features uneven across sector: Traditional banks are more likely than digital banking providers to offer their websites, apps, and policies in Spanish. Banking websites are more likely than banking apps to have built-in accessibility features for people with disabilities. Financial products should be accessible to all users. Language and disability should not be a barrier to using banking apps.

5. Incomplete commitment to fraud protection: Some banking service providers do not explicitly commit to monitoring fraud in real time and to notifying users in the event of suspicious activity. While all banking service providers that we evaluated have fraud education materials on their websites, three do not offer similar materials within their apps. The risks to consumers of banking fraud and scams continue to increase, and banking apps can do more to support users with information and education.

Consumer Reports scored each banking app on the data supporting the five key findings.  See the full report for the scores for each banking app. Each company has areas where it excelled and areas for improvement.