Banks and charities getting clever on student finance

15 September 2017, 20:25   By Samantha Smith

BARCLAYS have announced they're installing a "pay by tweet" vending machine on the campus of Birmingham City University, enabling the incoming freshers to purchase food and lifestyle items simply by advertising their purchases on social media.

student budgeting
Credit: Motortion Films/

The novel vending machine will be on the university's campus for the duration of Freshers' Fortnight, helping students as they orient themselves to uni life, while Barclays are also one of many banks providing student accounts that offer cash back rewards at a variety of retailers.

And speaking of cash back, easyfundrasing and The Scholarship Hub have teamed up to launch Funds4Uni, a cash back scheme that earns students money for the purchases their family members make.

Yet as innovative as some charities and banks are becoming at thinking of ways to save students money, the cost of attending university is still very high, and won't be helped by rising inflation.

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This hasn't stopped banks and organisations trying to work around rising costs, with Barclays being the latest company to take an unusual approach to saving money for students.

They're installing a "Pay by tweet" vending machine on the Birmingham City University campus, which as the name suggests literally allows people to pay for goods by exchanging nothing more than their own tweets.

With student loans at an all-time high, managing your money has never been more important. Keeping on top of budgeting 24/7 with the Barclays Mobile Banking app, proactive push notifications and our text alerts will help to keep finances in check and give students the space to focus on their studies.
Sue Hayes, Barclays

The machine will be open to students until "early October", with the bank having undertaken a survey of student spending habits to determine which goods to sell through the machine.

They found, for instance, that today's crop of "Generation Z" students (born roughly between the mid-Nineties and mid-Noughties) are healthier than those preceding them, particularly Generation Xers (born mid-Sixties to early-Eighties).

As such, the following foodstuffs have seen growths and declines in popularity among today's student body, compared to those who were students in the Nineties:

  • Coconut oil (667%)
  • Non-dairy milk (550%)
  • Avocados (266% growth)
  • Sweet potatoes (189%)
  • Herbal tea (171%)
  • Smoothies (169%)
  • Kale (80%)
  • Baked beans (-26%)
  • Beer (-28%)

In light of such findings, Barclays will be stocking the machine with such products as avocados, green smoothies, almond milk, coconut oil, chia seeds, and even Fitbits (the latter are available only to randomly selected prize winners).

Being able to obtain such items for free will make the transition to uni life a tiny bit easier for students, even if effectively bribing them to transform their digital social lives into a platform for Barclays might an unorthodox business practice.

Student accounts

Yet Barclays aren't simply offering free goods to students, but also a bank account tailored to their needs.

Their Student Additions Account provides cashback at over 150 retailers. Added to this, it gives students the ability to apply for a fee-free planned overdraft of £500, which can rise to £3,000 over the course of their degree, assuming they keep up with payments and stay within their credit limit.

As can be imagined, Barclays aren't the only bank offering student accounts, as shown below:

Nationwide FlexStudent Account£1,000 planned overdraft, rising to £2,000 and £3,000 on 2nd and 3rd yearsYes1% interest on balances up to £1,000; free cash withdrawals overseas
HSBC Student Bank Account£500-£1000 interest and fee free planned overdraft in 1st year, can rise to £2,000 and then £3,000No£60 Amazon gift card, one-year Amazon Prime Student membership
Santander 123 Student Current AccountUp to £1,500 interest and fee free planned overdraft in first three years, can rise in fourth and fifth years NoFree 4-year Santander 16-25 Railcard, can save as much as £767 over 3 years
NatWest Student Bank Account£500 interest and fee free planned overdraft in first year, £2,000 afterwardsNoFree 4-year National Express Young Persons Coachcard, can save ..." of coach travel costs
Lloyds Bank Student Account£1,500 interest and fee free planned overdraft in first 3 years, £2,000 in years four to six YesFree NUS Extra card for three years, provides extra discounts at select outlets

One important thing to note here for students is that, while planned (or "authorised") student overdrafts are interest and fee free, they will have to pay daily charges if they exceed their planned limits and lapse into an unplanned overdraft.

Cashback account

One other thing that's noticeable from the above table is that certain banks offer cashback with their student accounts, a perk that's recently been taken to its next level by easyfundraising and The Scholarship Hub.

These two social enterprises have paired up to launch Funds4Uni, a cashback scheme that allows students to sign up for an account that's fed money whenever friends and family spend.

Over 3,300 retailers are involved according to the two charities, who claim that students could save as much as £860 a year through the scheme (that's a fair number of avocados).

That said, while Funds4Uni and innovations like it are no doubt a big help, they do little to address the huge elephant in the room when it comes to student finance: the rising cost of university and of living.

Not only have annual tuition fees climbed to £9,250 this autumn, but inflation has rose to 2.9% in August, after having already hit 2.9% once before in May.

When such rises in the cost of everyday goods are coupled with the still high price of accommodation, it's little wonder that the average student is now leaving university with debts of just over £50,000.

This is why, even though the help provided by the likes of Barclays and Funds4Uni is certainly welcome, it won't solve a very serious and deeply rooted problem.

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