Emma Review – Is it the best budgeting app?
What is Emma?
Emma is a money management app that uses open banking to combine information from all of your bank accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and investments. Emma was launched in 2018 by co-founders Edoardo Moreni and Antonio Marino and in June 2018 it raised around £500,000 in the first round of funding. The co-founders came up with the initial concept while studying at Manchester University together, striking up a close friendship thanks in part to being the only two Italians on the course
They moved to Berlin following their studies to start work on 'Kiria' a predecessor to 'Emma', but it struggled to make an impact and was hit with issues surrounding German banking law. With the laws relaxing in England, they ditched 'Kiria' and moved to England to develop what we know now as Emma (The name is made up from the co-founders' initials).
On the 11th June 2019 Emma became the first UK based money management app to launch in the US and Canada.
How does Emma work?
Co-founder Edoardo Moreni describes Emma as a 'fitness tracker for money' and it is designed to sync your budgets to your payday and track all of your payments throughout the month, whilst at the same time making you aware of your future commitments. By syncing all of your current accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and investments you can get real-time information as well as easy access to historical data.
Who should use Emma?
Anyone that has a smartphone and who struggles to keep on top of their finances. Emma's biggest audience are people aged 25-35 closely followed by people aged 18-25. That said, you shouldn't be put off if you don't fall into those age brackets; I'm 40 and have no difficulty in navigating the menus and understanding the features. However, one slight criticism I do have is that the overall feel of the app in terms of its design is a little bit child-like. I understand they are targeting a younger audience, but with the bright colours and the main logo being a gummy bear, it feels at times like you are loading a game for a 5-year-old rather than an app that will revolutionise something as serious as your finances.
Setting up an Emma account
Setting up is fairly straightforward, you search for your bank/credit card/investment provider within the app and link them up, logging on as you normally would, providing the relevant security details. If you are not used to signing in online, you may find it frustrating as you'll need access to all of your bank /credit card/ investment online login and security details to sync up the app.
What do you get?
Once you have downloaded the app and linked your accounts you have four sections to navigate, summarised below.
The main feed, similar in feel to Facebook or Instagram where you can scroll down to access spending summaries, subscriptions and reminders
More of a detailed breakdown of your current income and expenditure across all of your accounts. You can access your budgets and look at the current month or look back over the previous months.
Broken down into four sections, Everyday, Savings, Investments and Loans and this is where you can access your individual accounts, all from one screen.
The area where you can carry out quests, sign up to 'Emma Pro', contact Support and access rewards (all explained below).
What banks are supported on Emma?
- American Express
- Bank of Scotland
- Capital One
- First Direct
- Lloyds Bank
- Metro Bank
- Royal Bank of Scotland
- Starling Bank
- TSB Bank
- Tesco Bank
- The Co-operative Bank
- Virgin Money
What investment accounts are supported on Emma?
- Bitcoin Wallet
Emma also lists a number of investment accounts that are not currently supported. Clicking on one of the following will be followed by a pop-up message saying 'This provider is currently not available. They either don't have a public API or haven't been able to provide one'. You are then encouraged to Tweet the provider.
- Hargreaves Lansdown
What are Emma's stand-out features?
In the analytics section, you can select 'Budgets' and set up a budgeted amount for all of your categories, such as bills, transport, groceries etc. You have the ability to choose to budget in two modes, either payday to payday or month beginning to month-end. Whichever way you decide to budget you can set a 'Total Budget' for the month and use this to track your spending and achieve savings goals. If you choose to set individual budgets you can move these up and down whenever you wish by clicking on the plus or minus in the various categories. The app will give you your average spend in each category to help guide you, which is useful, but be aware that it is looking at your total spend. In the transport section, for example, I budget £300 each month, but the app suggested it should be £450 as it was including a one-off amount I paid for a particularly expensive service I had a while back.
'Quests' is Emma's take on gamification, encouraging you to explore the app in return for earning badges and icons. It is a neat take on what is essentially a features or FAQ section and it meant that I explored more than I usually would, although the final badges will only be won by those that are keen to shout Emma's name from the rooftops as it is heavily focused on referrals.
The Pay Period section shows your real-time balances in your account. It does this by taking your income, subtracting your committed spending (which is not just your direct debits as the app is clever enough to notice regular commitments), subtracting actual expenses (after subtracting your predicted spending) and then lets you know what is left.
An interesting feature and one that I found useful is the ability to receive a daily update across all of my balances. It is provided in a simple to understand notification, sent each morning.
Making sense of your money
Emma has a clever feature that excludes internal transfers across your accounts to avoid confusion. This can include moving money into a savings account or paying off a credit card. So long as the account you are moving the money to is added to the app, the transaction will be excluded, the money will simply show in the correct place.
The one downside is that Emma does not currently have not a 'Savings' or 'Credit Card' category (as the app has access to your savings and credit cards and so simply updates the balances accordingly). This approach works fine for me but others with multiple savings accounts or credit cards may find it confusing, especially if the bank or credit card provider isn't supported by Emma.
In April 2020 Emma introduced 'Histograms' which allows users to easily see how their spending has changed over time. Displayed as a bar chart, users can easily compare their spending in various categories over time.
Emma allows you to earn rewards by signing up to products and services through the app. These are affiliate deals where you, as the consumer, will earn money by taking up the product or service. Emma has made it clear that it does not earn any money from the affiliate deal and passes it all on to the user. This is a fairly standard feature and similar to other budgeting apps although others (such as Curve) that combine online bank accounts do go a little further and give you cashback on spending with certain retailers. A frustration with the Emma rewards for me is that they are paid via PayPal (something I don't personally use) rather than directly into your account.
Emma provides a summary of all bank charges and is on a mission to reduce the £10 billion revenue that banks make from these charges. Bank charges can be hard to understand and can often be hidden amongst other charges and so the summary that Emma provides can be a useful reminder to check the fees that your bank is charging (and any associated benefits). I could see that I had paid over £160 in bank fees in just six months and as a result I contacted my bank to move from a packaged account (charging £27 a month!) to a free version. I have lost a few benefits as a result but have replaced them elsewhere at a fraction of the cost.
Emma offers a pro plan which you can pay for monthly or annually. If you select monthly, it will cost £6.99 per month whereas an annual subscription costs £41.99 as a lump sum. This works out at £3.49 a month. You get access to additional features such as custom categories, exporting data, you can rename transactions and you can do manual accounting. 'Split transactions' is a feature that was added in May 2019. I personally don't feel there is enough on offer to convert me to the paid plan as you get so much in the free version. Over time I would expect Emma to add more features to the paid version to make it more attractive although with significant investment behind it, they may be tempted to move some of the currently free features over to the paid version. Certainly, something to look out for.
Emma has confirmed that it will include long term savings goals soon, so you can see your progress and track it over a longer period (currently you can only track month by month). More rewards will be added over time as Emma is in weekly discussions with new providers.
Emma vs Yolt vs Money Dashboard
Yolt was launched in the UK in 2017 and Money Dashboard was founded in 2010. Like Emma, both access your information in 'read-only' mode. Yolt and Money Dashboard boast around half a million users while Emma currently has just over 100,000. There is very little to choose between Yolt, Money Dashboard and Emma in terms of overall features but I find the overall user experience is better with Emma, for instance, I rarely have to re-categorise a payment which is a frustration with Yolt. Users have reported a delay of up to 4 or 5 days in transactions showing on Money Dashboard and they also use your data to provide insight for market research companies, something that Emma has confirmed they do not do and have no intention of doing.
Money Dashboard and Yolt look more like a budgeting app should but for me, Emma does a better job overall. Interestingly, when I questioned Edoardo Moreni about his competitors, while Yolt and Money Dashboard inevitably came up in conversation, it was 'Cleo', the AI chatbot that he is most fearful of.
For more information on Yolt and Money Dashboard read our full reviews:
How safe is Emma?
Emma has bank-grade encryption and so you should feel assured that your data is kept securely. It is FCA and ICO registered and the app has read-only access, meaning no-one can touch the money. Emma also points out that they have people in their team that have built security systems for companies such as Google, so it seems they taken security very seriously. Emma also doesn't store any banking credentials. This means that your account cannot be breached at any point in time, even if their servers get compromised.
Emma Security Summary
- Bank grade encryption
- FCA registered
- ICO registered
- Read-only access
- Data is not shared with 3rd parties
- Easy sign-up process
- Easy to navigate
- Comprehensive analysis and budgeting
- Highlights wasteful subscriptions
- Daily balances
- No savings category
- Rewards paid via PayPal rather than directly into your account
- Child-like feel to the overall theme
- Not all banks are supported
Emma offers a quick set up process, smooth user experience and an impressive set of features. While I'm not a huge fan of the design theme, it is not enough to put me off, especially when you consider what you get for a free app. It is a powerful tool that has helped me to understand my finances and make immediate savings. I don't feel that the paid version offers enough right now for me to part with my hard earned cash, but I'll be keeping a close eye on developments over the coming months.
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