Cleo App Review – Financial Assistant or Nuisance?

Cleo is another “challenger” budgeting app that focuses on it’s rather witty AI to manage and encourage your savings and budget. Aimed at beginners to personal finance, the app’s goal is to make saving more engaging and interactive, with the AI chatbot to spice up the usually stale interface.

More and more FinTech apps are moving towards implementing AI when it comes to offering savings and budgeting insights, or even the activity itself, as Cleo does. With over 3 million users, it seems to be taking the right path, growing faster than any other app of its kind.

Cleo offers automatic recommendations for when to transfer money from your current account into your savings account, calculated on your spending habits. This is an excellent and completely free feature of the app, and this is just the beginning of what the app has to offer in terms of features. Keep reading to find out more and see what my impressions of the app were.

Cleo app review – How I found it

Unfortunately, I had an extremely difficult time setting up Cleo and connecting it to my bank. The app prompts you to connect via your mobile banking app, and this part seems to initially work well. But once you go to return to your app, the “return” loading screen never ends and if you close out and go back to Cleo, your bank is still not connected. I repeatedly retried, reinstalled and re-registered and the same problem persisted. At one point when registering my email address, Cleo got stuck in an endless loop of verifying and reconnecting and required another uninstall is it continued after being Force Stopped. While this was my experience, this isn’t what everyone will encounter, so take it with a grain of salt.

Setup was a terrible first impression for me, but once I finally got it working, I was able to check out the app’s features and found some redeeming qualities. Most impressive was the automatic saving feature based on its AI. While I used the app, I found its saving estimates to be rather low in comparison to my spending, but that may be because I’m a notoriously low spender in comparison to my income.

The informative and chatbot side of Cleo was rather insightful and entertaining too. Cleo’s chatbot has different settings that can “roast” or “boost” you while providing insight on your spending habits. It was pretty comical, but more entertaining than useful.

Pros

  • Very encouraging for beginners
  • Accessible and functional UI
  • Automated savings advice
  • Great beginner credit card
  • Useful insights

Cons

  • Mostly for beginners
  • Few significant features beyond basic
  • Seems very buggy

What does the basic Cleo version offer users?

As previously mentioned, Cleo is primarily an AI chatbot, recommending savings deposits and commenting on your budgets and how closely you stick to them. While this alone is fairly useful and well implemented, this isn’t just what Cleo offers.

Providing a modern and clean interface, Cleo offers a range of useful tools to monitor spending and saving. While the charting is lacking compared to alternatives, there is still very nicely detailed breakdowns of what you’ve spent on which categories, what you are expected to spend and how much you can afford to save.

The app also allows you to set goals and budgets which are tracked as you spend and save. I found this feature to be particularly useful, as it saves you spending time going through your bank feed working out if you’re actually sticking to your budgets or not. In my use of the app, I didn’t come across any circumstances where an expense was miscategorised, so I was pretty impressed.

I found the chatbot to be relatively entertaining initially, but after a few days I got a bit tired of its witty jibes. Maybe I’m just getting old, as this app is aimed at millennials, but I can definitely see the engagement benefit of this feature as it sets it out from the crowd.

Cleo+ features

Cleo Plus is Cleo’s premium tier costing £5.99 per month and providing you with a whole bunch of useful features relating to savings and cashback. Inclusive with this is a future update will be the ability to check your credit score and received notifications when there are any updates.

cleo-plus

Salary advance

A fairly useful feature that I haven’t seen offered anywhere else so far is a £100 salary advance which is an option when the app sees you are likely to become overdrawn. Surprisingly, this comes with no interest charge, and is definitely a useful service that really would help people avoid overdraft fees. You are given 28 days to pay this back and the app states that it doesn’t affect your credit score.

Money Makers

The cashback portal included with Cleo+ is called Daily Cash. There are various ways you can earn cashback, such as with Cleo challenges, Money Makers and offered click-throughs. Money Makers is a system where you choose 5 vendors your regularly shop from and you can earn instant cash back in your Cleo wallet when you spend at any of these retailers.

Clickthrough offers

Cleo’s referral features allow you to earn up to 7% cashback when you connect with promoted retailers found on the Daily Cash page. If these retailers are some that you regularly use, then you can find a lot of value here. None of the retailers offered were interesting to me, however.

cleo-cashback

Is it worth it?

While these features are relatively useful, especially the salary advance if you regularly have trouble managing your money around payday, I don’t see enough value here to justify the price tag. £5.99 is towards the higher end of premium costs for apps like this, and most of the others with this kind of cost offer either interest savings, or some kind of investment benefits. Unfortunately, most of the things “offered” involve encouraging you to spending money, which isn’t really what the goal should be.  The free version offers plenty of value though and is definitely worthwhile to use.

cleo-automatic-saving

Credit builder card

A relatively new feature available to Cleo users is the Cleo Credit Builder card. This is perfectly designed for its userbase in mind to help younger, or financially fresh people to build their credit score. It’s a secured credit card which requires you to deposit cash into a security deposit to access a higher credit limit, allowing you to responsibly spend within your means. This allows you to build your credit score safely, especially if traditional card companies aren’t willing to give you a regular credit card.

I couldn’t find any real issues with this, as there are no base fees and seemingly no catches to using it since it’s a secured card. It’s a genuinely good idea for younger savers. To access the card, you need to be over 18, have a Social Security number and be offered the card through app usage.

Is Cleo safe?

The app only has access to your data in read-only mode and offers bank level encryption for its users. It also fundamentally can’t withdraw or deposit funds, and any fund movement between your accounts requires your strict permission. There is no way I could see that you could move money outside of already linked accounts though.

The app is also regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) but it does not offer FSCS protection. Despite this, Cleo claims to promise to protect up to £85,000 of lost money if it was a result of using its platform. Take that promise as you wish. Personally, with the errors I faced trying to sign up to the app, I don’t have confidence in their app’s security, but that’s down to my personal experience. Yours may vary.

Conclusion

Cleo is a great app for beginner savers and young people alike to help engagement with the usually tedious process of saving, budgeting, and financial management. I really like how the app is slowly building up more services aimed at improving money management skills without being predatory and adding hidden fees, like a lot of other financial platforms.

Overall, the app offers some great basic features, but I found some of the charting and deeper financial services to be very weak. I would like to see dedicated savings account in the app, or a platform for investing, like a lot of its competitors. The card is a nice touch though that I don’t see very often among FinTech apps.

Generally, I would recommend the app for new savers and people who struggle to budget, but I would be cautious. If you have problems setting it up like I did, I advise you use a different app, as there are plenty which offer similar features.

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