Long-Term N26 Review (3+ Years): Frozen Accounts, Controversy & More

It’s been just over three years since I decided to move to Berlin. One of the first things I did was ask around, do my own research and sign up for a bank account, so this also makes it my three-year anniversary with N26. 

N26 has been my favourite bank in Europe for as long as I’ve been here.

Here’s why:

TL;DR
  • N26 is the only bank in Germany that's challenging the status quo with its modern banking approach. They're also the only expat-friendly bank, supporting English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
  • Basic account is completely free, which is more than enough for most people. This includes free ATM withdrawals and zero fees on international purchases. Premium plans get even more benefits.
  • Also great for frequent travellers, remote workers and digital nomads, as everything can be done online.
  • As of 2020, N26 has outgrown its growing pains and still remains the best choice for banking in Germany and the rest of Europe, as well as for frequent travellers and digital nomads.
  • Open your free N26 bank account by clicking here.

In this article, I’ll be going through my experience banking with N26 for the last three years, the various pros and cons, and of course, investigate the different waves of controversy that has plagued them for the last few years.

After all, it’s important to know what a company has gone through and how they dealt with their problems – all in order to know what it’s like now. This is especially important when you’re (literally) about to give them all your money. 

Now, let’s get started. 

What Makes This N26 Review Different?

I’ve worked for quite a number of years as a strategy consulting in the banking industry. As a customer, I’ve also had bank accounts with six different banks to date and used to be an avid points hacker, churning through one or two credit cards every year. So it’s fair to say that my knowledge of banking is a little above average.

I’ve also been living in Berlin for several years now, so I hear a lot of chatter from my expat friends and a number of social media groups. During this time, I’ve had a personal (and professional) interest in people’s experiences with N26 over the years – which has resulted in this N26 review. 

All in all: I’ve done my homework and N26 is still the bank that I recommend to most people who want a modern banking experience in Germany. If you only speak English, N26 is basically your only option – which is not a bad thing at all. 

What are the Pros and Cons of N26?

From an industry perspective, Germany is rather conservative when it comes to anything to do with money, largely thanks to a preference for cash and a general distrust of banks. 

Still, we all need to store our money somewhere. And in Germany (and even for the rest of Europe), N26 is by far the best choice for people who modern banking. They’re the only bank that is now competing on a global scale, and if you’re an English speaker: N26 is the only bank that officially supports English in Germany. 

What makes N26 the top pick? 

  • English as an official language (not just "supported")
  • Zero fees for the basic N26 account
  • Affordable premium plans that represent great value for money
  • Useful app with innovative features
  • No foreign currency fees for international purchases
  • Free ATM withdrawals
  • Integrated live chat support in 5 languages
  • N26 is a fully licensed German bank, unlike Revolut or TransferWise

What are the shortcomings? 

  • Limited customer support over the phone
  • Can be a little clunky to set up if you have unusual circumstances
  • Some basic (but irregular) tasks still need to be done over the phone

Customer Support in Five Languages

One of the biggest struggles that people encounter when arriving in a new country is the language barrier.

While some German banks have branch managers who might be willing to help out, English is not an officially supported language in most German banks. This also means the contracts and documentation will be exclusively in German, with the occasional half-hearted translation. 

With N26, there are two official languages: German and English. Not just “supported”, but “official”. Additionally, they also support French, Italian and Spanish in their various customer support channels. 

To see more details about N26 in English, simply head to their website and click the language toggle at the top right.

Don’t settle for a bank that doesn’t speak your language – literally.

Free Banking, Plus Great Value Premium Plans

N26 has three main plans: the standard N26 account (free), N26 You (€9.90 per month) and N26 Metal (€16.90 per month).

You can learn more about the specifics of each plan on the N26 website, but generally speaking, the standard N26 account should be good enough for most people. You can also start with this and upgrade later to N26 You or N26 Metal, any time you like.

Here’s a summary of the inclusions:

N26

  • Price: free
  • Free ATM withdrawals in Euros
  • Free payments in any currency

N26 You

  • Price: €9.90 per month
  • All standard N26 account inclusions
  • Free withdrawals worldwide
  • Allianz insurance package
  • Selected discounts and offers from partner brands
  • Choice of 5 colours for your debit card

N26 Metal

  • Price: €16.90 per month
  • All N26 You account inclusions
  • Exclusive access to unique Metal Experiences
  • Dedicated Customer Support
  • Choice of 3 colours for your metal debit card

See a more detailed breakdown of N26’s plans here.

Most banks just have insurance and a fancy card for their premium plans, but the N26 You and N26 Metal plans actually offer good value. This is especially if you travel a lot, as it includes complimentary travel insurance, dedicated customer support and a selection of discounts and offers.

They also have a “Business” option for freelancers and the self-employed, but I would recommend sticking to the Personal account for day-to-day expenses. 

N26’s Business account is a little confusing to wrap your head around (I still don’t really understand it), and for some reason, it’s not possible to have both a Personal and Business account at the same time. Business accounts also restrict “personal” purchases to a Maestro card, which is often not accepted online and in some countries such as Denmark, Ireland and Greece.  

On a more general note, it’s also just not as well-featured as the competition, probably because it’s not a priority at the moment.

Generally speaking: stick with the N26 Personal account

A Beautifully Simple and Functional App

Many banks (not just in Germany) often have apps that include features that only a handful of people would find useful, while others fail to even do the basics properly.

N26’s app is both simple and functional, with a few useful tricks hidden up its sleeve.

Overall, it looks great. They’ve done a great job with the details, such as the subtle animations on the login screen and the ability to hide your balances by waving a hand over the screen.

Organise your money with Spaces

N26 also has Spaces, which you can use to save money for later (such as taxes, future holidays, and so on) while Moneybeam allows you to transfer funds to anyone on your contact list using their phone number.

You can also open a Credit or Savings account directly through the app, and all your transactions are automatically sorted and displayed by category under “Statistics”.

Instant push notifications

Above all, one of my favourite features are the instant push notifications that I receive whenever a transaction has been made from my N26 account. This gives me complete visibility over my account and peace of mind. Logging into the web version of N26 also requires two-step verification from the N26 app. 

In-app foreign currency exchange

TransferWise is a service that I also often recommend, which allows you to convert your money into different currencies at far cheaper rates than what you’ll find at banks of foreign exchanges. Since a lot of N26’s customers are expats, they have TransferWise built into the N26 app.

Learn more about the N26 app’s features on the N26 website.

Free Cash Withdrawals & CASH26

Since N26 is a digital bank and doesn’t have any physical branches or ATMs, customers can use any cash machine in Germany for free. This is much better than most banks that charge a fee if you don’t use their own bank’s ATMs. 

From within Germany

You’re limited to 5 withdrawals every month if you’re using N26 as your primary account (regular salary deposits or at least 1,000€ per month). Those who don’t meet this requirement are limited to 3 withdrawals every month.

From outside of Germany

If you’re withdrawing from outside of Germany but still in Euros, there is no limit. 

Cash withdrawals over the counter

If this isn’t enough, you can use the CASH26 feature on your app to create a barcode, have it scanned at one of 11,150 retail partners across Germany (including REWE, Rossmann and Penny) and get up to 900€ over the counter every 24 hours.

More options for premium account holders

N26 You and N26 Metal customers also get fee-free withdrawals in other currencies, while regular N26 customers have the standard 1.7% fee. If you travel often, it might be worth the small fee to get the free currency withdrawals and complimentary travel insurance. 

Learn more about the different account options and their inclusions.

Live Chat Support (Website & In-App)

N26 offers live chat support through their website and app between the hours of 7am and 11pm. This is supplemented by their messaging bot, which automatically suggests relevant FAQ sections based on your question. This has been surprisingly helpful, unlike most AI-driven bots that companies use. 

If the suggested FAQ answer doesn’t answer your question, you’re placed in line to live chat support. If something really needs to be done over the phone, they’ll call you back.

Tip: when asking for help, be specific and provide as much detail as possible. The support representatives are not mind-readers and can only provide information based on what you’ve told them. I’ve seen so many screenshots of people getting angry when they simply haven’t explained their issue properly.

Second tip: it’s a little annoying, but stay active on the chat screen while the support representative is investigating your issue. If you become “inactive”, it’ll disconnect. I’ve also seen a lot of people complaining about this as well, when the reality is that it’s simply timed out – standard practice to make sure the support representatives aren’t chasing up customers for half an hour. 

Is N26 a ‘Real’ Bank?

Yes, N26 is a fully licensed bank. 

They’re licensed with BaFin, the financial regulatory authority for Germany, which insures all deposits up to €100.000 held in the member states of the European Union (or the equivalent amount in GBP for customers in the UK).

This is worth mentioning, because many of banking alternatives that people often mention (excluding other German banks) are, well… not real banks.  

This means that they are not protected by any bank regulators from any country. If something goes wrong, or worse, if they go bankrupt, you have to rely on their goodwill to give you your money back – and they have no obligation to. 

With N26, this isn’t an issue and you’re protected against all of this.

But ironically enough, this is also the natural place to start on the negatives. 

Controversy:  Negative N26 Reviews

Many “N26 reviews” have affiliate deals going on in the background, which means they’re incentivised to only talk about the positives.

But I’m a realist, and believe that no legitimate review is truly complete without a deep dive into the negatives as well. Not to mention: customers are smart, and they’ll figure out what’s going on soon enough, anyway.  

Most N26 customers, including myself, have not had any issues at all, but it’s also impossible to ignore the occasional waves of negative reviews that cropped up over the last few years. 

Misunderstanding How Banking Works

A lot of the commentary seems to have stemmed from a basic lack of understanding of how banking works (e.g. expecting American Express-level concierge services while holding a free N26 account), or extremely unique situations (e.g. complaining that they couldn’t open an account in Germany while living in Panama on a non-European passport and without any form of residency or security identification – what?).

Example: A Real Customer Complaint

Here’s a recent Facebook post where a customer blamed N26 for another company’s mistake. Funnily enough, many people seem to be supporting N26 now, perhaps because they’re frustrated at how people seem to lash out without fully understanding the problem. 

In case you can’t see the link, here’s what she said:

So I discovered a charge in my N26 bank account from Uber, of quite a large amount. N26 says I can only contact the merchant – but guess what, there is no email address or phone number I can contact.

Context: the trip isn’t visible in my Uber app, but I was debited in my account for an amount I was never notified of (I check after every trip I complete). N26 has no way to solve this unless I contact my un-contactable merchant. What they could tell me, however, is that the merchant charge came from the Netherlands. I live in Berlin.

Thanks N26, I’ve lost a large amount of money and there is nothing you offer to do to help me. What wonderful customer obsession.

>>> Does anyone have a bank to recommend for internationals (who travel a lot) that won’t screw me over like this?

Here were the responses:

Sorry but 2 seconds of googling would give you the Uber support page where you can find out what to do with an unknown charge.

How is this N26’s fault?

But N26 can’t do anything. You already authorised Uber to withdraw money.
But Uber has a contact form in their app, and from my experience they reimbursed me twice my money back within less than 24 hours. So contact Uber.

Yeah this actually has nothing to do with N26. You’ve authorised payments by linking it with Uber – you’ll need to talk to them. All banks are the same with this sort of thing.

Come on. What do you expect the bank to do? You have already authorized someone to withdraw money as they like. The bank has no idea and no way to investigate if the transaction was correct or not. And truthfully, it’s not their business.

Another Facebook post referenced the “bad experiences” with N26, and was met with the following responses: 

People have had bad experiences with N26? My partner has had his account for over 4 years and is super happy. Support is quick and all in English.

Not this again. Some people have bad experiences, the majority is fine.

In my experience, you see a lot of bad-mouthing N26 in this group from weird profiles that mostly seem like fake profiles if you visit them.

Of course there’s bound to exist some real people that have had bad experiences, but to me it seems likely that some competitor is paying for troll accounts to give N26 a bad reputation.

I know it seems weird given all I’ve read here, but for me the customer care [with N26] has been spot on so far.

I don’t get all the N26 drama, I’ve had an account for 2.5 years and all good, even when I traveled to the US.

I’m all for naming and shaming companies that provide a poor customer experience, but I really feel like N26 has really been unfairly treated, often for issues that are not their own. 

Like all banks, N26 has had to overcome a few speed bumps in the past. I spent quite a few days to dig up this information, and the reason I include these is to provide context around both the negativity and the response from N26 (and if the issue is now resolved). 

My Personal Opinion

Having worked in banking and seen my fair share of controversies, my opinion is that N26 has actually done a very decent job of dealing with the issues that have come up during its exponential growth. 

While they’re not blameless, they’ve also been treated rather unfairly by the press – possibly due to Germany’s turbulent history with money and banking. Even their customers on social media jumped on the bandwagon – many of whom, despite all their complaints, seem to have remained as N26 customers. One of the media storms actually started after the husband of a high-profile journalist got caught in one of the technical issues last year.

And that’s why despite everything, I still recommend N26 to everyone I know and use it myself as my main bank account.

But you also deserve to know the whole story, so here goes: 

A Timeline of Negative N26 Reviews

What’s important to remember with all of these controversies and negative reviews, is that all banks go through this at some point in their lifetime – it’s just that most got this out of the way years ago (usually decades), before social media gave customers a place to voice their concerns without any moderation. By comparison, N26 is a young bank. 

With all of these controversies, it has always been a tiny minority that was actually affected. And of those who were affected, it turned they were using their account rather irregularly – although, of course, they would protest otherwise. 

Most customers, such as myself, have been using N26 for years. I have no complaints, and I still recommend N26 to everyone. 

June 2016

Accounts Terminated Without Notice

N26 discovered that money launderers were abusing their famously simple application process and unlimited cash withdrawal policy. They targeted accounts with unusually high numbers of ATM withdrawals (15-30 per month), and some customers were also frozen in this process.

Response: N26 improved the application process and created a Fair Use Policy for ATM usage (3-5 withdrawals per month).

N26 also revealed that they absorb the 2-3€ ATM withdrawal fee for their customers “with the assumption that most customers will use their accounts and this benefit, reasonably”. Some customers (who also happened to be the people whose accounts were flagged) were abusing this feature. This new policy addresses this issue as well.

Result: Resolved ✅

June 2016
December 2016

Technical Issues & Security Vulnerabilities

As N26’s customer base rapidly grew, they made the decision to move to their own banking infrastructure in December 2016. There were some technical issues for a number of their customers’ accounts. This coincided with the announcement of a security vulnerability.

Response: The technical issues were a temporary glitch during the customer migration period and were quickly fixed. The vulnerabilities found were addressed months before the news was announced.

Since then, N26 has continued to pre-emptively patch other potential vulnerabilities and started a bug report bounty program.

Result: Despite all the bad press, no accounts were affected and this is now completely resolved ✅

December 2016
March 2019

Phished Customer Accounts

After a relatively quiet few years, N26 appeared in the media again as a number of their customers were phished.

By definition, phished accounts are not N26’s fault at all. It’s the work of criminals who use social engineering on unsuspecting customers to get their login details. Still, N26’s customer support received negative attention from customers and the media for “responding too slowly”.

Response: The reality is that these take time, especially when large sums of money are at stake. It would be even worse if a bank had responded too quickly and made mistakes. All of the phished accounts were blocked while investigations occurred, and this has now been resolved.

In April 2019, N26 also released a press statement to announce that they have since implemented on additional safeguards against social engineering. This now includes 2-step verification via the app. 

Result: Resolved ✅

March 2019
May 2019

BaFin: Order to Improve Security

Even a brief look at N26’s social media pages, Facebook groups or Trustpilot will reveal unhappy customers over the last year. But before you jump to conclusions, it’s important to understand the details.

The short story is this: BaFin, the financial regulator for Germany placed an order on N26 to strengthen their security processes, allegedly because criminals were again using N26 accounts were used for money laundering – somewhat similar to the issues from 2016.

Response: Long story short, it took some time but everything has been resolved. This is quite a long tale, so I’ve elaborated more on May 2019 below. 

Result: Resolved ✅

May 2019

Explained: Frozen Accounts in May 2019

Since they started, N26 received nothing but praise over the first few years and quickly became the darling of the German start-up scene.

So why were customers so angry in mid-2019? 

In a nutshell: N26 offered a service that so far ahead of its competition that it was too good to refuse. This resulted in N26 growing too fast for them to keep up.

N26 offered a free account for English-speaking expats and Germans who wanted a more modern banking experience. This was something that didn’t exist in Germany for a long time. To make things even better, the setup process was quick, relatively painless, and catered to the unique situation of foreigners and expats who had just arrived in the country.

People flocked to N26 in droves and they grew faster than they could possibly handle. This led to internal staff shortages across the board, particularly in customer service. This actually wasn’t really a problem until BaFin stepped in and published an order for N26 to strengthen their security processes, allegedly because criminals were using N26 accounts were used for money laundering.

In a nutshell, that “easy application” process that people had become so accustomed to had blown up in N26’s face, and they had to fix it. Only this time, with BaFin watching their every move.

How N26 Responded to the Frozen Accounts

N26 designed and implemented algorithms to pick up on these fraudulent accounts, which also “froze” some accounts that had irregularities. Of course, it’s not a perfect system, but it’s also completely infeasible for this to be done manually – so patterns need to be used to speed up the vetting process.

These then had to be manually reviewed by their customer service team – a team that were not prepared for the number of customers that N26 now had.

Since then, N26 has methodically worked through their backlog of open cases and have started to exponentially ramp up their hiring. Last time I checked, they have job openings for 300+ positions and I’ve seen their employee numbers on LinkedIn jump from around 1400 to around 1600 in the space of a few weeks.

At the time of publishing in 2020, this seems to have completely been resolved. The complaints have also stopped, and people seem more than happy to recommend N26 once again. 

Why Were N26 Customers So Angry?

This is good question. It appears that several other German banks also underwent similar issues, but most of N26’s customers never heard of this as they don’t speak German – which why they chose N26 in the first place.

Many N26 customers are also quite young, have not had much experience with banks before, and often have irregular spending habits. They also hadn’t been in Germany for long enough to have opened an account with any other banking provider, which means they had nothing to compare N26 against.

Since N26 is a “proper” bank with a banking licence, they’re governed by a financial regulator that guarantees all funds up to €100,000. This also means they need to cooperate with their financial regulators (in this case, BaFin). Those who left N26 during this time and “never had any problems” with other banking services was often because these digital services are not real banks and are not regulated by any government body – which creates a whole new series of potential issues. 

Lastly, N26 is completely free for most people. This also often attracts a customer base that also makes the most noise when things go wrong or their privileges (e.g. unlimited ATM withdrawals) are taken away. 

All businesses have the right to not accept customers that don’t meet their requirements. Temporary residents don’t really make great customers, with limited visas, no financial history, less job prospects, and often living on a budget – and this includes a lot of expats. 

In fact, the Australian passport is no longer a valid form of ID to open an account through the app, as Australians had been abusing the system so much. This meant that I had to physically walk to a post office with my passport and visa to get verified – not as convenient, sure, but also not a big deal. 

Perhaps this sounds unfair to some, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable. 

That being said, N26 could have communicated their problems better as they were going on – though I suppose this also came down to the fact that they were so understaffed. 

What Does This Actually Mean for Customers?

For most people?

Not much. 

N26 is just as safe and stable as any other bank in Germany – possibly better now, as they’ve fixed their staffing issues and have significantly improved processes.

The vast majority of customers – including myself – never had any problems during this time. In the scheme of things, it seems like the negative reviews that ended up online are from a small but very vocal minority.

Think about it: people never say anything when things work perfectly, but are quick to complain within minutes of something going wrong. Social media has only made it easier for this minority of people to be heard, while the media loves to promote negative stories to increase their website views. 

Conclusion

Still here? 

Well done for making it all the way down here – this was a long one! 

I hope this article has been useful in getting a more well-rounded understanding of N26, including a deep dive into the good and bad – a first step towards making an educated decision. 

So here’s my conclusion on all this:

N26 is the best bank for most people who live in Germany, any of the supported countries, or even for those who travel frequently or live/work remotely. 

Head on over to the N26 website to open your own account, or check out my other article on how to open a bank account in Berlin, Germany for step-by-step instructions. If you need Euros, I also highly recommend using TransferWise to convert and send your home currency to your new N26 account – it’s significantly cheaper than any bank or currency exchange. 

Thanks for reading! 

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