Emma app Review – Is it the best budgeting app?

19 min Read Published: 17 Jun 2021

What is Emma?emma review

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.

Emma app Features

  • Add all of your accounts - connect your bank accounts, credit cards and investment accounts to analyse your spending in one place
  • Set up your payday - set up a payday to track your spending from paycheck to paycheck. Emma allows you to set up a weekly, fortnightly and monthly paycheck. Alternatively, you can manage your money by calendar month.
  • Set total monthly budget - Emma suggests a total budget based on your monthly spending and then notifies you if you are above or below your budget
  • Track subscriptions - Emma collates all of your regular payments which allows you to identify if you have any duplicate or wasteful subscriptions
  • Categorise transactions - organise your spending into Emma's handy default categories
  • Spending analytics - get a detailed breakdown of your spending
  • Cashback - earn rewards and cashback at certain retailers
  • Save on your bills - Emma suggests where you can save money on your bills such as insurance, credit cards and broadband
  • Savings goals - an Emma Pro feature that enables you to track your savings progress and compare it against your savings goals
  • Invite a friend - invite a friend to Emma Pro and receive £15 for each friend that joins
  • Scramble mode - show your friends how Emma works without sharing your personal account information
  • Smart rules - an Emma Pro feature for linking your offline accounts with regular transactions
  • Bank fees - Emma highlights any fees you have paid out to each of your banks over time
  • In-app support - get support for any problems with the chat feature
  • FCA regulation - Emma is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority

How does the Emma budgeting app 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.

Setting up the app 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.

Who should use Emma?

Anyone that has a smartphone and who struggles to keep on top of their finances. Emma's biggest audience is 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.

What are Emma's stand-out features?

Budgeting 

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

'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.

Real-time balances

The Pay Period section on the main feed 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.

Daily Balances

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 'Credit Card' category (as the app has access to your credit cards and so simply updates the balances accordingly). This approach works fine for me but others with multiple credit cards may find it confusing, especially if the bank or credit card provider isn't supported by Emma.

Histograms

In April 2020 Emma introduced 'Histograms' which allows users to easily see how their spending has changed over time. Found under the analytics section and displayed as a bar chart, users can easily compare their spending in various categories over time.

Rewards

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.

Bank fees Emma app review

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.

Save Money

Emma has partnered with a number of providers in order to help users save money in various areas of their finances including insurance, investing, pensions, credit cards, loans and savings. Partners include Money Supermarket, Confused.com, Money Guru, Monevo and PensionBee.

How much does Emma cost?

The Emma budgeting app is free to download and use but there is the option to upgrade to Emma Pro for an annual subscription fee.

Emma Pro

Emma offers a pro plan which you can pay for monthly or annually. You get a 7-day free trial and the option to subscribe for 1 year which comes at a cost of £59.99 a year.

You get access to additional features such as custom categories, savings goals and data exports. '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 and so over time I would expect Emma to add more features to the paid version to make it more attractive.

Which banks are supported by Emma?

  • American Express
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Barclays
  • Barclaycard
  • Capital One
  • Clydesdale Bank
  • Danske Bank
  • First Direct
  • HSBC
  • Halifax
  • Lloyds Bank
  • MBNA
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Monzo
  • Nationwide Building Society
  • NatWest
  • PayPal
  • Revolut
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Sainsbury's Bank
  • Santander
  • Starling
  • TSB
  • Tesco Bank
  • TransferWise
  • Ulster Bank
  • Virgin Money
  • Vanquis
  • Yorkshire Bank

Which investment accounts are supported by Emma?

  • Nutmeg
  • PensionBee

Crypto Exchanges

  • Binance
  • Bitfinex
  • Bitstamp
  • Bittrex
  • Coinbase
  • Kraken

Crypto Wallets

  • Bitcoin Wallet
  • Ethereum Wallet

Which investment accounts are not supported by Emma?

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.

  • Freetrade
  • Hargreaves Lansdown
  • MoneyBox
  • Moneyfarm
  • Vanguard
  • Wealthify

Is the Emma budgeting app safe to use?

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 uses open banking which was introduced in 2018 and allows users to connect to banking apps like Emma without sharing their personal account details.

Emma Security Summary

  • Bank-grade encryption
  • FCA registered
  • ICO registered
  • Read-only access
  • Data is not shared with 3rd parties

Emma customer reviews

Emma is rated as 'Great' on Trustpilot with a rating of 4.2 out of 5.0 stars from over 60 reviews. 75% of customers rate it as 'Excellent' citing it has helped to improve their personal finance knowledge and regain control of their finances. 11% have rated it as 'bad' citing problems with the friends referral scheme and some users think that Emma Pro is quite expensive.

Alternatives to Emma

There are a variety of budgeting apps on the market and we compare Emma to some of the other budgeting apps available below. For more information on the different types of budgeting apps, read our article 'The best budgeting apps in the UK'.

Emma vs Yolt vs Money Dashboard

Yolt was launched in the UK in 2017 and boats around half a million users. Money Dashboard was founded in 2010 and in 2020, it launched Money Dashboard Neon, a brand new 'mobile-first' app. Interestingly, Money Dashboard Neon offers advanced features such as custom categories and split transactions for free, something that Emma charges a fee for. Both Yolt and Money Dashboard Neon benefit from a simplified menu and uncomplicated design. Yolt has recently introduced a prepaid debit card that can be used for everyday spending. 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, Cleo and Money Dashboard read our full reviews:

Emma app pros and cons

Emma Pros

  • Easy sign-up process
  • Easy to navigate
  • Comprehensive analysis and budgeting
  • Highlights wasteful subscriptions
  • Daily balances

Emma Cons

  • 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

Summary

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. Personally, I don't feel that the paid version of Emma offers enough for me to part with my hard-earned cash, especially as Money Dashboard Neon offers many of the advanced features for free.

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