London-based FinTech Curve was founded in 2015 by Shachar Bialick and launched in 2016. Its payment card allows users to aggregate multiple debit and credit cards, so users can make payments and withdrawals from one single card. After several funding rounds, they are now said to be worth around $250m, but are they as good a travel companion as they say they are?
*Rates and charges shown are correct as of 15th July 2021
The payment card Curve allows users to bring all their cards together, removing the need for that bulky wallet. With the strap-line ‘One card to rule them all’, you get an understanding of the idea behind Curve - replace your wallet for one card, Curve (although currently they do not offer the ability to link your Amex card).
Curve currently offer three subscriptions, from their free card up to their metal card priced at £14.99 a month.
Each plan offers standard benefits from the ability to switch payment card post transactions to ‘fair’ FX rates and an allowance of fee-free ATM withdrawals during the week while using a Curve card abroad.
Curve states that: “On a weekday we will normally use an exchange rate collected from our wholesale provider, though when the exchange rate is volatile we may use the rate as of midnight on that day.”
Reserving the right to use an exchange rate of their choice, or from a different time, in addition to using a wholesale provider that gives hourly rates (rather than realtime rates), has led to numerous discussions on the Curve forums - implying that customers are getting hit by significant hidden FX fees.
(it's worth noting that if the currency of your transaction is the same as the currency of your underlying payment card, there will be no additional fees).
Curve offers over 150 currencies with the exchange rate offered through a third-party. The exchange rate offered to Curve users is updated once an hour, which means there could be an increased FX rate in some instances. As the rate is not live, it can be unclear the actual rate you’re receiving until you can see how much has been spent on your card in GBP.
Curve have set “fair use” allowances on all of their plans, we can see that they charge 2% above £500 per rolling month spent in foreign currency on their free card. However, Curve are not clear on what they charge ‘Curve Black’ and ‘Curve Metal’ customers when they go above their limit.
Source: https://support.imaginecurve.com/hc/en-gb/articles/115005776925-How-will-Curve-save-me-money-abroad-(last reviewed 01/07/21)
The weekend effect is significant here - It means that you could face a hefty increase on the FX fee you thought you may get based on your activity running up to that weekend.
For example, if you are on the basic account and have already spent over your £500 monthly limit, if you checkout of your hotel, you would be faced with a 2.5 - 3.5% FX fee on that transaction (and every transaction over that weekend). These fees can quickly add up and impact the total amount spent over the duration of a trip.
On Top of their exchange fees, fair use fees, weekend fees and ATM fees, what other fees does Curve charge? While Curve doesn't charge any postage fees to receive the card when you first sign up, there is a £4.99 fee for the basic card itself. If you’re looking at the other subscriptions you won’t have to pay for a new card but you could be hit with a £50 replacement fine if you lose your metal card.
Fees taken from Curve Terms and conditions 02.07.2021
For those who find it inconvenient to carry a number of cards in their wallet while at home or when travelling, Curve can help solve that problem. It also means that if your wallet gets stolen, you only lose one card, which you can freeze easily. (but remember if you use an Amex card, you would still need to carry that, as Curve does not accept payment via AMEX).
From a rate perspective, if you stay below their fair use threshold and don’t spend on the weekends or in volatile market conditions, you can generally expect to be charged less than you would using your high-street bank debit and credit cards, but it does require constantly checking your allowances on the basic account so you do not fall foul of the additional FX fees.
Currensea was founded by James Lynn and Craig Goulding in 2018, then launched in 2019 aimed at removing hidden FX fees for travellers when spending abroad and the hassle of topping up or prepaying.
Currensea is the UK’s first Direct Debit Travel Card. The layer in front of your current bank account, saving you money, giving you extra security and making your bank work that bit harder for you.
Currensea partners with your current bank account to save you at least 85% on all overseas transactions. No need to prepay, no need to top-up, no need for a new bank account. Spend as seamlessly abroad as you do at home, with the money only taken from your existing bank account after you’ve spent.
Currensea offers 15 currencies at the real (interbank) rate and 165 currencies at the Mastercard rate (which is the rate also used by Monzo, Starling and many other FinTechs). When signing up for the free plan, users will be charged at a flat FX rate of 0.5% over these two base rates - with no extra charges over a certain amount or at weekends, it's that simple.
Currensea currently offers three pricing plans. The Essential plan is free to use, the Premium plan is £25 per year and the Elite plan is £120 per year. The Essential Plan charges 0.5% FX per transaction, whereas the Premium and Elite plan incur no fees. The Elite plan also includes a host of exclusive benefits and memberships, as well as the exclusive Currensea black card.
Currensea has no additional weekend charges, or fair usage limits on any plan.
Comparing the two free products offered, if you’re going on a European trip during the week and you’re planning to spend less than £500, and take out less than £200 from an ATM, (depending on the FX rate Curve chose to use at that time) Curve could work out as the cheaper option by around £2.50 (not factoring in the £5 delivery charge).
However, if you're visiting Europe over a weekend Currensea would be cheaper as Curve charges an additional weekend fee of 0.5% and the exchange rate is not as good as the interbank rate offered by Currensea. And once your spending exceeds £500, Currensea is significantly cheaper, as Curve charges a 2% per transaction as well as the extra 0.5% weekend fee - so charges total 2.5%, whereas Currensea's fees remain unchanged as a flat 0.5%.
Or perhaps you are planning a trip to South Africa for 7 days, and do not plan on spending more than £500 on your card - if you spend equally across each day, Currensea would still be the cheapest option, with only a 0.5% fee on top of the interbank rate, it is 1% cheaper than Curve during the weekends, which is where the fees can mount up.
So in summary, due to Curve’s weekend fees and fair FX usage, Curve really only becomes the card of choice for weekday trips abroad. As soon as you stay over a weekend and put over £500 on your card, their fees make it an expensive option compared to Currensea. One final thing to also bear in mind, is that Curve do charge £5 to receive a card, while Currensea is free to get, so for first time customers there is also that to remember.
Currensea Limited is registered in England and Wales (No. 11413946), authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (Reference No. 843507) and is a Principal Member of Mastercard. We are registered with the Information Commissioner's Office (Registration No. ZA524676).
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