A study carried out by the bank comparison site, Choisir ma banque for Le Monde this year found that on average clients paid €41 a year in fees for an online bank account compared to €166 on a traditional account.
Online banks have lower overheads as they have fewer buildings and need fewer staff, but despite a large amount of TV advertising they can apply lower bank charges to the customer.
Overall, their main selling points are that their bankcards are free, there is no fee for running an account, no fee for withdrawing money from any bank’s machines, overdraft charges are low, and direct debits and bank transfers are free within the euro zone.
However, obviously, as they are online you should be reasonably computer savvy on the internet.
France has around 20 online banks and most are spin-offs from traditional banks or insurance companies.
The most well-known are Boursorama (Société Générale), Hello Bank (BNP Paribas), Fortuneo (Crédit Mutuel Arkéa), Monabanq (CIC-Crédit Mutuel), Soon (AXA Banque), Bforbank (Crédit Agricole) and Ing Direct (Groupe ING).
Each of these, other than Ing Direct offers new clients €80 for signing up, though some stipulate that they have the right to reclaim this sum if the account is closed within a year.
All offer free bank cards but most have the proviso of needing a guaranteed monthly income to be eligible.
Bank charges are easily available on their individual websites and show that an online bank account is certainly cheaper than a traditional one though you often need a minimum income to be able to sign up.
Although most transactions are done on-screen via computer or the bank’s own smartphone app, you can talk to a human being if needed – however, if you prefer regular human contact these banks are not for you.
Advice lines are often open out of normal banking hours: Ing 8.00-21.00 Monday to Friday and 8.00-18.00 on Saturdays; Boursorama Monday to Friday 8.00-22.00, Saturday 8.45-16.30; Fortuneo 8.30-20.00 Monday to Friday, 9.00-13.30 Saturday.
Some even allow you to go to the bricks and mortar branches of their parent bank if you wish to meet up with a bank advisor: BNP Paribas for Hello Bank, Axa Banque for Soon and there is an ING Direct Café at Paris and Lyon which they describe as half bank branch, half café.
Online banks do not necessarily carry all the services of a traditional bank, for example, only a few offer property and personal loans but lower costs can mean higher savings rates.
Their low costs may also be attractive for auto-entrepreneurs.
To open an account you must be resident in France and need to provide proof of residence.
Fill in your details online and send copies of other necessary supplementary official documents either by post or by email.
There are many comparison sites on line where you can see how much money you can save by switching your account to an online bank.
Independent consumer magazine QueChoisir has a comparison service, but you must subscribe to use it. In an article about the advantages and disadvantages of online banks it concluded that they were cheaper, you could trust their status because they were affiliated to classic financial organisations but that their Achilles heel was being susceptible to a technical breakdown or computer piracy.
Online offers add up to a direct saving over high street accounts
We checked out offers and claims by online banks at the end of March and found:
Boursorama claims it is the cheapest bank online. You need a minimum €10 to open an account to get the €80 perk and must have an income of €1,000 net a month to get the free classic bank card and €1,800 net a month for the premier card.
HelloBank asks for a €2,000 monthly income for its free Visa card which can be used in all BNP Paribas banks throughout the world.
Fortuneo offers a coupon worth €20 in certain shops for each salary and direct debit transferred to the new account, up to a value of €100. For a basic Mastercard you need €1,200 salary net a month, for a Gold Mastercard €1,800 net a month and for a World Elite mastercard €4,000 net a month.
Monabanq says that in 2015 the average cost of an account in France was €190.50 a year and that its basic costs are €24 a year, which is made up of a €2 a month payment for 40 different bank services. The Visa Classic card is free but a Visa premier card is €5 a month.
Soon requires you to put €40 into the bank to sign up and offers a Visa card without revenue conditions.
BforBank asks for a monthly income of €1,600 to open an account and gives a free Visa Premier card, but unless it is used at least three times in six months charges of €15 a semester will be incurred.
It claims you can save €281 a year by opening an account.
On top of the €80 perk, it will give an additional €50 and a 3% interest rate for three months on a savings account opened at the same time, with a ceiling up to €75,000.
Ing Direct, which is Dutch based and established worldwide, does not offer the €80 carrot to new customers but offers 3% interest on a savings account opened at the same time as a current one for two months. It also offers a free Gold Mastercard.