Once upon a time, a bank...
Artemis needs a bank. Banks don't like Artemis.
I got a new job. For this job, I needed a bank account. This is the start of a painful, tiring, and incredibly frustrating process.
Due to my own disabilities (which I won't go into detail here), I have trouble with digital interfaces, which makes it very hard for me to use most banking websites (because let's be honest for a second. They're almost, if not, all shit). Additionally, I do not own a smartphone which I can easily use for myself, and this phone has its own set of restrictions making it very hard to use for this need.
- It is rooted, so for some shit reason most banking apps refuse to work
- It is running without any google play services, which is usually a pretty common core component of complex apps such as banking apps
- It isn't running with any SIM card, or mobile plan, because I cannot bear a mobile phone and phone calls
Since in our current incredible (/sarcasm) world ran by greedy morons known as capitalists, you need a bank account and a mobile phone number everywhere, I decided to try to get a clean and low-maintenance bank account, ideally without a phone number at first (to allow me to... well... subscribe to a phone plan? Since you need a bank account to get a phone number). This is the tale of me going through the long, slow, and painful process of trying to find an acceptably decent bank, including in its ethics. Also, just so you know, this is scoped to France, as this is my country of residence.
The first steps
I started the usual way: by asking around. A friend of mine provided me with a link that allowed me to see a "moral score" (read "ethical score") of lots of french banks. This is where I started, trying to get a general idea of all the ones to avoid.
[French link] Grading of most france-"compatible" banks based on ethical criteria, obviously almost all banks are shit.
I started going through them, one by one, to try to see if I could get an account going.
- La Nef: This is the bank with the highest score. Sadly, it doesn't provide day-to-day spending accounts for customers
- Ma French Bank: A new project by the french postal service group. Requires a non-root mobile phone, so I cannot use it
- Crédit coopératif: Looks nice on paper, but requires an enormous amount of stuff to open an account (2 ID cards, one of them expired, which is nice since I only have one card; a 150€ check from an account I own, which I cannot provide since... I don't own an account; and many more stuff)
- Monese: Looks to fit all the checks for me and not require a smartphone at all, but isn't available in France yet...
- La Banque Postale: Very pricey services, inaccessible website, incredibly slow and buggy infrastructure and payment handling (wifey uses it, and it's abyssimally bad)
- N26: App crashes on rooted phones, and works on my non-rooted phone, EXCEPT that their app requires geolocation "for security" (at this point, why not, I'm tired of it and need an account stat), but my only non-rooted phone doesn't have a GPS chip, so it's dead in the water
At this point, I was about to go in the red zone, which kinda sucks, but the worst part is that almost all solutions listed in the red and black zones were simply... inacceptable for me.
- transphobic stuff (among other anti-LGBT+ issues)
- horrible work conditions
- abusive data collection
- inaccessible services or non-rooted phone requirements
Which brought me back to two choices. I had the choice between N26, and a bank that doesn't appear on this listing: Bunq.
I went through a lot of banks, so let's recap where I now stand. I am debating between two banks.
The first one is a bank I already dealt with in the past. Moreover, its account fees are very low to nonexistent. However, this bank doesn't have a french HQ, which means that I would have to deal with lots of manual admin work to disclose those accounts for taxes stuff. At this point, I can live with a 7-pages doc to handle every year. The biggest pain point would've been to have to set up some form of emulator, or dig a very old android phone to do the whole onboarding process. While doable, it wasn't something I was ready to do right away.
The second bank is a project I've been eyeing for a long time now. This is the only bank I have found to be... pretty much the complete opposite of all other banks.
- Trans-friendly services (ie ability to freely use chosen names absolutely everywhere, including on a physical credit/debit card, without any form of admin proces (a simple text field to fill out), and no shit forced "male / female" checkbox in the account's legal info)
- A customer-oriented API so absolutely everyone, again, can develop their own services and features, including custom payment history exports, payment automations, and such. This is freaking cool and a feature I've been wanting for literal years (so I can keep track of my financial data on my local grafana/prometheus dashboard setup)
- Lots of budget management and card management features (although I miss the one-use virtual cards some services offer)
I then discovered two pain points.
Firstly, you need to go through their mobile phone app, but I discovered that their app worked even though I was in root mode. Secondly, to have a decently working account, the account fees are very high (pricing at around 9€ per month, which goes over 100€ per year, clearly not available for lots of people...).
I can live with the former point, but the latter one really made me consider the options there and take some time...
Ultimately, after a lot of internal debate, and public debate, I decided to choose Bunq. While I don't know anything about their ethical standpoint, I must say that the trans-friendliness and the ability to develop my own (accessible) services is an incredible bonus. Since they also have a french registration, this means that I won't have to do any manual form filling every year. And, frankly, with this new job, and knowing how much money I avoid spending by self-hosting and budgeting a whole lot for almost every subscription I could pay, I think that I am now ready to invest that much money in a bank account. Yes, it's really annoying, but if this bank works well (and I received a few positive feedbacks from friends), my current financial and life situation allows me to really accept this price with a relative confidence.
My account is now created on Bunq, my ID papers being verified, so I will hopefully soon be able to deposit some cash on it and start using it to get this new phone number.
Depending on how well it works, and what I do with this account, I may be inclined to write new (probably more technical) articles (for example, about building an account status / recent transactions prometheus exporter!).
Edit: Bunq sucks hard
Welp, after spending days waiting for this verification, and a few support tickets, I got my account banned for "having papers not matching the acceptance policy". My crime? Having a recent ID card. Their tech support refuses to provide more info to this issue, and refuses to let me retry activating my account in a few days or a week.
Still searching for a bank, for now.