A Compte-Nickel is open to all over 18s who have French residency or who hold an EU passport.
The only charge is an annual €20 membership fee.
The account gives you a Mastercard debit card – but no cheques – and access to internet banking and online statements.
You can take out money at any banks’ cash dispensers showing the Mastercard symbol or other tabacs offering Compte-Nickels. You cannot go overdrawn because payments are not accepted above your balance.
Like most French current accounts, no interest is paid but there are also no options for services like savings accounts or loans.
Opening an account is simple, requiring only ID (such as a passport) and a working mobile phone number. Originally set up partly to offer banking to people barred from other banks, no questions are asked.
A spokeswoman said: “At other banks they ask you about salary, employer’s name, any outstanding loans etc. It’s more complicated and intrusive. We don’t reject anyone and there’s no problem opening an account as long as you have a residence permit or EU passport; and you can keep it for life. Someone who lives in the UK could open one when they are on holiday – it’s tailor-made for holiday home owners.”
The project was launched in February this year and it is thought there will be 100,000 customers by its one-year anniversary.
It is not possible for minors to have an account at present but this should change by spring 2015 – the fact that you cannot spend more than you have being a benefit.
The spokeswoman added: “It’s true there are no savings options. It depends on your needs. But you can have a salary paid in and make your direct debits for your electricity, taxes etc..”
At present, the service is accessible at 520 tabacs which compares poorly, for example, to 10,000 post offices where you can have a Banque Postale account, or that bank’s 7,000 ‘relay points’ in places like shops, which also allow basic services.
However the Banque Postale does not operate along Nickel’s ultra simple, low-cost model.
The spokeswoman said: “It’s not comparable - at La Poste you sometimes have to make appointments, the person in charge isn’t always there, especially in the countryside.
“A tabac is the local shop with the most extensive opening hours.
“We’re aiming for 100,000 customers by February then bit by bit it should grow – there are 25,000 tabacs but it’s up to each one to decide.”
At present the Nord-Pas-deCalais is especially well-served, otherwise participating tabacs are evenly spread across France. The accounts have the usual banking guarantees.
Find newsagents that offer the service via compte-nickel.fr