Mobile banking is very popular in Belgium, with residents using apps for day-to-day banking, money transfers and even in-store payments.
Digital banking has become a huge industry in recent years, as customers ditch bank branches for websites and smartphone apps. This progression is particularly significant for expats, as it can allow them to manage their money on the move or from the comfort of their own home.
Expat finance expert Dave Deruytter of ING Belgium explains how digital and mobile banking in Belgium works, how expats can access their money remotely, and how banks are dealing with security issues around online banking.
With over 50 years of experience in advising expats on their finances, ING offers a range of banking, insurance and financial services to professionals moving to Belgium - from bank accounts to mortgages and advice on the Belgian pension system.
Mobile banking in Belgium
There are over a hundred banks in Belgium, including a mixture of local lenders and major multi-national players. In fact, Belgium has one of the highest numbers of bank branches per capita in Europe.
As with other countries, though, some branches are slowly being phased out as more customers begin to access their everyday banking needs from the comfort of their own home or on the go, through either app or browser-based services.
Dave Deruytter says: “The good news for expats is that Belgium is at the forefront of digital banking technology, with many banks offering internet banking and smartphone and tablet apps.”
Desktop and smartphone banking in Belgium
While technology is always progressing in this area, smartphone banking apps still lack a few of the features available to customers who use desktop banking.
Dave says: “Browser-based banking services tend to be more fully fledged than smartphone and tablet apps, especially if you have accounts in foreign currencies and want to move money around.”
He adds that “though digital banking apps are always becoming more sophisticated, you can’t currently move money between foreign currency accounts using these. You can, however, still make transfers between accounts and make payments in euros.”
Digital banking in Belgium: multi-currency banking
Multi-currency banking is important to expats in Belgium who want to maintain accounts in their home country as well as in Belgium.
And while some international banks offer premium services that allow you to manage your foreign currency accounts, it might not be necessary to splash out on advanced services.
Dave says: “Belgian banks are very sharp on multi-currency banking now, so you might not need one of the paid-for premier accounts offered by large international banks. For many expats, standard services will suffice.”
How smartphone banking works in Belgian
On your mobile or tablet app you can make payments, check your balance, shop online and open additional accounts.
“The main attraction of smartphone apps are ease of use – all you’ll need is a wifi connection, your bank card and your e-signature” says Dave.
It’s also possible to move money immediately. For example, the Bancontact app by ING allows you to split bills or pay friends from your phone. All you need to do is scan the QR code that’s created by the app, enter your pin and your money will be transferred straight away.
Making mobile payments in Belgium
As well as being able to do your daily banking on a mobile phone or tablet app, mobile payments are becoming increasingly popular in stores as an alternative to cash, credit and debit cards.
Payment apps, sometimes known as digital wallets or mobile wallets, can be installed on your smartphone. Two of the most well-known apps are Android Pay and Apple Pay. Android Pay has been available in Belgium since 2017, while Apple Pay is set to be rolled out at some point in 2018.
Digital wallets are usually linked to your bank cards, allowing you to make contactless payments in stores as if you were using the card itself. In many cases, you can also make immediate payments to your family and friends.
Security features of smartphone apps
With ever-increasing threats to online security by hackers and fraudsters, banking providers are working hard to stay ahead of the game and keep customers secure online.
Dave says: “New challenges are emerging all the time for banks, with scammers and fraudsters becoming better at manipulating systems. This means that the onus is on providers to always be improving their cyber defences.”
A good mobile banking app should take several measures to protect your security, such as:
- A feature that locks you out if you enter your online banking pin incorrectly
- The app disconnecting and logging you out after a period of inactivity
- Not storing any of your personal banking data on your device
Users with newer phones can log into some online banking apps using only a fingerprint.
What can you do to protect yourself with online banking?
As well as the bank providing security features, there are things you can do as a user to avoid your security being compromised.
- Choose a strong password – don’t use your date of birth;
- Don’t use public networks (such as the free wi-fi found around cities) to log into your app;
- Call your bank immediately if you lose your phone, so that they can block your app;
- Always use password protection on your phone;
- Always press ‘log off’ when you are finishing using your internet banking;
- Reset your device back to factory settings if you’re selling it or no longer plan to use it.
Opening a bank account in Belgium
Whether you’ve already arrived in Belgium and are looking to sort out your finances, or are planning a move to Belgium in the near future, it’s easy to open a new bank account here.
If you’re a non-resident or haven’t arrived yet, some banks will allow you to open a basic bank account online. You’ll usually need to provide proof of residence and identification to fully open an account, so you’ll need to attend your local branch when you arrive in Belgium to provide these documents. An alternative is to use an online-only bank, such a bunq, which allows you to open and manage your bank accounts directly from your smartphone anywhere in the world.
Get your head around how to open an account, transfer money abroad and pay bills in Belgium in our full guide on opening a bank account in Belgium.
Dave Deruytter is head of expatriates at ING Belgium and has first-hand experience of living as an expat around Europe. Dave boasts more than 30 years of experience in expat financial advice on everything from bank accounts to insurance and real estate.ING Belgium