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UK Banking, Fineco is not enough

Update 2023-09-15: Fineco has announced that they are leaving the UK market.

You may remember that the last time I blogged about UK banking I had just dismissed Barclays in favour of Fineco, the Italian investment bank, branch of UniCredit, This seemed a good move, both because people spoke very good of Fineco in my circles, at least in Italy, and because the sign up flow seemed so good that it sounded like a good idea.

I found out almost right away that something was not quite perfect for the UK market, in particular because there was (and is) no way to set up a standing order, which is the standard way to pay for your rent in the UK (and Ireland, for what it’s worth). But it seemed a minor thing to worry about, as the rest of the features of the bank (ability to spend up to £10k in a single transaction by requesting an explicit lift on the card limits with SMS authentication, just to say one).

Unfortunately, a couple of months later I know for sure it is not possible to use Fineco as a primary account in the UK at all. There are two problems, the first being very much a problem to anyone, and the second being a problem for my situation. I’ll start with the first one: direct debit support.

The direct debit system, for those not used to it in Europe, is one where you give a “debtor” (usually, an utility service, such as your ISP or power company) your account details (Sort Code and Account Number in the case of the UK), and they will tell the bank to give them money at certain time of the month. And it is the way Jeremy Clarkson lost £200, ten years ago. There is a nearly identical system in the rest of the EU, called SEPA Direct Debit (with SDD Core being the more commonly known about, as it deals with B2C, business-to-consumer) debits.

After I opened the Fineco account, I checked on Payments UK’s Sort Code Checker which features were enabled for it (30-02-48) and then, as well as the time of writing, it says «Bacs Direct Debits can be set up on this sort code.» So I had no refrain in closing my Barclays account and moving all the money into the newly created account. All of my utilities were more than happy to do so, except for ThamesWater that refused to let me set up the debit online. Turns out they were the only ones with a clue.

Indeed, when in January the first debit was supposed to land, instead of seeing the debit on the statement, I saw a BACS credit of the same amount. I contacted my ISP (Hyperoptic, with the awesome customer support) to verify if something failed on their side, but they didn’t see anything amiss for them. When even Netflix showed up the same way, and both of the transaction showed up an “entry reversal” of the same amount, I knew something was off with the bank and contacted them, originally to no avail.

Indeed, a few more debits showed up the same way, so I have been waiting for the shoe to drop, which it did at the end of January, when Fineco sent me an email (or actually, a ticket, it even has a ticket number!) telling me that they processed the debits as a one-off, but to cancel them because they won’t do this again. This was professional of them, particularly as this way it does not hit my credit score at all, but it still is a major pain in the neck.

My first hope was to be able to just use Revolut to pay the direct debits, since they are all relatively low amounts, which fit my usual auto top-up strategy. When you look at the Revolut information page with your account details for GBP, the text says explicitly «Use this personal UK current account to get salary and to pay bills», which brought me hope, and indeed the Payment UK’s checker also confirmed that it supposedly accepts Bacs Direct Debit. But when I checked with the in-app chat support, I was told that, no Revolut does not support direct debits, which makes that phrase extremely misleading. At least TransferWise explicitly denies supporting Direct Debit in the sort code checker, kudos to them.

The next problem with Fineco is not actually their fault, but is still due to them not having the “full features” of a UK high street bank. I got contacted by Dexters, the real estate company that among other things manages my apartment and collects my rent. While they told me the money arrived all good when I moved to Fineco (I asked them explicitly), they sent me a scary and threatening email (after failing to reach me on the phone, I was going to be charged excessively high roaming charges to answer an unknown number)… because £12 were missing from my payment. The email exchange wasn’t particularly productive (I sent them a photo of the payment confirmation, they told me «[they] received a large sum of money[sic] however it is £12.00 that is outstanding on the account.» So I called them on Monday, and they managed to confirm that it was actually £6 missing in December, and another £6 missing in January.

Throwing this around with colleague, and then discussing with a more reasonable person from Dexters on the phone, we came to figure out that Barclays (as the bank used by Dexters to receive the rent) is charging them £6 to receive these transfers because they are “international” — despite the fact that they are indeed local, it appears Barclays apply that fee for any transfer received over the SWIFT network rather than through the Faster Payments system used by most of the other UK banks. I didn’t want to keep arguing with Dexters over the fact that it’s their bank charging them the fee, I paid the extra £12, and decided to switch the rent payment over to the new account as well. I really dislike Barclays.

I’ll post later this month on the following attempts with other bank accounts. For now I decided that I’ll keep getting my salary into Fineco, and keep a running balance on the “high street” account for the direct debits, and the rent. Right now for my only GBP credit card (American Express) I still pay the balance off Fineco via debit card payment anyway, because the credit limit they gave me is quite limited for my usual spending, particularly now that I can actually charge that card when booking flights on BA without having to spend extra money in fees.

Comments 7
  1. I also noticed a few differences also and the penny is dropping…slowly.
    My first bank statement had my address in mixed language? English and Italian.
    ie. instead of United Kingdom, they print Gran Bretagna.

    I found that unusual….to have it mixed.
    …this is when you know it is an Italian bank firstly.

    Of course, bank statements can be part of our 100 point ID system with KYC rules.
    So will this Non English wording be read literally, as is , and cause problems?

    In theory, it could be a problem in the UK and English based countries?

    Ij ust made a transfer from Barclays to my Fineco.
    So interested to see if there is a whopping £6 fee for this also.
    I haven’t attempted to transfer money back yet.
    Fineco do not charge a fee for receiving money in from UK banks …?

    Is this just falllout from Brexit?

    1. I transfer money in and out of Fineco all the time with Santander and NatWest and never have been charged anything, but I do know that Barclays refuse to use the normal transfers and make them SWIFT transfers which are charged at £6. I don’t think this has anything to do with Brexit.

      Funnily enough, Chase recently opened their Chase UK bank that also doesn’t have BACS affiliation so it lacks direct debits. I wonder if Barclays charges wires to them as well.

  2. OK…I thought I would do an update with my Barclays transfer. So far, i have not seen a charge with the standard EFT transfer out from Barclays. There is a payment section for international payments separate…So far so good.
    Now to test a transfer Fineco to Barclays…takes 3 days.
    But there is also 3 payment sections. Bank transfer,International Bank Transfer and Internal Transfer.
    i selected Bank Transfer. Unsure what method the 1st uses? Test is happening…It is t+3 days.(will confirm if Barclays charge £6 ? That would be not nice by Barclays if they did. )
    The international Bank Transfer will use SEPA or SWIFT?
    Internal stays within Fineco.

  3. With Fineco, I noticed you have the ability to assign a category and subcategory with some transactions . This may be fantatstic if it autolearns and does this automatically for some transactions.
    That could speed up personal accounting if you export the transactions to csv file. to import into accounting software. Unsure if the categories can be customised yet?

  4. I have thought about the standing order issue.

    They have upped banking payment security and required a pin to confirm payment out of the account.
    They may be using 3 Factors of authentication actually.

    Standing Orders are common practice though in banking?
    Very handy to have.

  5. I have a Fineco account, and a Barclays account, I regularly make transfers (both ways) between these two accounts and never see any fees. The only issue I have with the Fineco transfers is that they want 2 working days notice of a transfer, where the transfers from Barclays are immediate and usually show up in the Fineco account in a few hours.

  6. I use Fineco for share trading. They also offer share ISAs. I also use them for ordering Euros. They give me a bank card which I can use on european holidays. Am very happy with all of that as it is good value.. Reason I am here is that this a.m. I got a letter from Inland Revenue effectively saying they suspected I had overseas earnings and would I like to declare them! Although I have declarde trading info on my tax return, I never considered them as a source of overseas earnings, and in fact I don’t have any earnings from them (the associated bank account doesn’t pay interest). I assumed with the UK sort code that the bank was actually Uk based for this purpose but perhaps it isn’t.

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