Managing finance abroad and reducing fees is an important topic for the travelling public and an ever growing army of start-ups and established financial institutions advertise their solutions.
One of the more recent ones is Curve, while claiming to make your life easier by combining cards and strip fees this card is the one you do truly not want in your wallet.
What is the curve card?
Curve is a start-up available through their website imaginecurve.com that offers you a combination of physical charge card (actually issued by Wire Card, Curve doesn’t have their own license) and a control app. The concept is simple and basically appealing: download the app, insert your existing card details, wait for the curve card to be delivered, pay with the curve card and have your other cards charged in the background.
Why should I do this?
In theory you would get a lot of cool features from something like Curve:
– you only need one card with you, which card the transaction finally ends on can be controlled through the Curve app
– you have a handy ledger of your transactions in real time through the curve app
– your bank does not see what you actually buy, as all they see is Curve charging your card. However Curve sees every detail on every transaction
To top that up Curve promises you:
– wholesale forex exchange rates with only 1% markup fee
– no added fees
– a way around cash advance fees/interest on credit cards (since your bank doesn’t know the Curve card was charged at an ATM)
Now if you travel a lot you will think that sounds all pretty neat. Only one card, good exchange rates, no added fees? Sign me up!
I thought so too, but as so often when you think you get a good deal you actually don’t.
What is the catch?
Well the catch is simply, what Curve promises you is a lie. Sure you get a app, you get a card and you can link up your other cards through the app. That is as far as it goes.
I used my Curve card to withdraw Thai Bath and wanted to charge it to a card in Malaysian Ringgit. You can set this up in the app no problem, but as I found out that is just cosmetic. Curve is a UK company and when you charge anything in a foreign currency to your Curve card they will convert that to GBP, then charge it on your card where your bank will convert it into whatever your card currency is.
So to sum up, what Curve claims:
– Save with favourable exchange rates and only 1% FX
What you get:
– If you are in the UK, you get what you are promised. If not: have your purchase exchanged to GBP + 1% fee, pay your banks exchange rate + FX when Curve charges the GBP amount to your card.
Nice, so this cool start-up helps you pay double exchange fees and have your purchase is exchanged twice. Pretty good way to get rid of money you don’t need.
But at least there are no added fees and you save on cash advance fees right? Nope that is a lie too. Sure the Curve website has that everywhere in big letters but you are in fact charged a fee of GBP2 per ATM withdrawal. After I noticed that I searched the whole website for any mentioning of that fee. It isn’t there. What is there is a not working link to withdrawal fees in their FAQ, right below another repetition of “No fees, guaranteed”. Is that illegal? Well I am not an expert, but I would love to see what the regulators have to say about this.
So this is basically just adding fees left and right?
Yep, that is what Curve does. You can use your standard no foreign currency fees card from your local bank, get an interchange rate and only the fees you expect (if any). Or you can use the curve card for double FX fees, double currency exchange and GBP2 on top. A prime example of why fin-tech start-ups often are a much worse solution than established institutions and really add no value for anyone.
Bonus feature: Try to create a support ticket in the Curve app. That ‘add’ button is just cosmetic as well, it doesn’t do anything. But when you think about it that makes sense, Curve slaps you with double fees and gets all your valuable transaction data on top, so what you would want to tell them about that is probably nothing they care for.