Emma App Review
If you were to snatch my smartphone and scroll through my many pages of applications, you’d probably notice a bit of a trend. Among the various games and standards like YouTube, Instagram, and Timehop, you’d find several personal finance apps ranging from cashback vehicles to budgeting tools. That’s why I’m always excited to learn about new apps to review. Lucky for me, a few years ago I received an email from someone with Emma asking me to check them out on the App Store.
Emma is a personal finance app that arrived in America and Canada after originally debuting in the United Kingdom. Across the pond, the app has reportedly racked up more than 100,000 downloads, earning the company investments from several European venture capital firms. While you might have spotted the occasional Pound symbol employed in the app’s design elements when it landed here, it has been thoroughly adapted for the U.S. market. Moreover, recently, Emma got a big “3.0” makeover.
So what does Emma bring to the personal finance landscape? Let’s take a look at the main features of their free app as well as their paid Emma Plus and Emma Pro upgrades.
Using the Emma App
Linking bank accounts and the Accounts tab
Like most personal finance apps, after you sign-up, your next task is to link your various bank accounts. Also like so many other apps, this is accomplished via Plaid — a service that allows Emma to securely access data from your accounts.
While checking accounts and credit cards are probably the most helpful to add to Emma, you can also link savings accounts and even investment accounts to the app as well. In fact, the app will break your accounts into a few different categories such as:
- Cash (checking and savings)
Tapping each will display the overall balance for all accounts in that category along with a historical chart of your balances over time. Below that you can view individual account balances and tap any given account for recent transactions and other info. Meanwhile, over in the main Feed page at the top you can view your total Cash, Debt, Investment, and Loan balances.
App design and navigation
Off the bat, opening Emma reminded me a lot of the now-defunct Clarity Money. If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know that’s a good thing. The app’s Feed tab features a number of widget-esque sections, all featuring eye-pleasing color schemes. Beyond that, the majority of these widgets are pretty handy.
Starting at the top (well, after the aforementioned balance section) are Recent Transaction cards you can swipe through. This is actually where another Clarity Money comparison comes in: the use of company logos. For the vast majority of my transactions, Emma displayed the merchant logo, making it very easy to spot certain purchases. I truly appreciate this touch both functionally and aesthetically — and it seems Emma feels the same way as they include a way you can submit a business’s Twitter account so that the app can update their logo and name information. To me, this is a clever crowdsourcing idea that yields attractive results for the user experience.
Some of the other helpful tools in the Feed include a spending chart where you can quickly view how your current spending in various categories compares to the prior three months. Another prompt searches for transactions at some of your top merchants.
Finally the Subscriptions section may be one of my personal favorites as it shows a list of your current and inactive recurring subscriptions as garnered via your transaction data. In the event Emma missed a recurring subscription and you want to add to the list (or want to remove something from the list), you can do so by tapping that transaction in question and toggling on the “repeating payment” option.
To me, this feature is key as it not only warns you about upcoming spending commitments you have but also provides you with a master list of subscriptions, making it less likely that you’ll forget about them. Thumbs up for plugging money leaks!
Tracking your spending and building a budget
There is no shortage of ways to view your past transactions in Emma. This includes viewing recent transactions across all accounts, tapping into specific accounts, and filtering by category, retailer, or by using tags. Plus the home screen features those additional widgets I mentioned that will display your purchase data.
Of course, with all this purchase data, it only makes sense that Emma would offer the ability to build a budget as well. To do this, just tap the Budgets link in the middle of the Analytics tab. Here you’ll see a list of all of your spending categories along with your current spending average for each. At the top, your total monthly budget will also be displayed.
One minor gripe I previously had with Emma’s budget set-up is that it relies on you tapping the plus or minus buttons to increase or decrease your budget in $5 increments. Thankfully, this has long been fixed and you can now simply enter what number you want for each budget category.
With your budgets in place, Analytics will show how much of your budget you’ve used in any given category. It will also show how much of your total budget you’ve spent in your current pay period. By the way, you can adjust what constitutes a pay period by visiting the main Feed and tapping the pencil icon on the “This Pay Period” widget or going to the More tab and selecting Payday.
Going hand in hand with the budgeting aspect of Emma are alerts and notifications. Here you can see a recap of alerts sent when you go over budget, receive daily balance updates, and much more. You can opt into or out of several notification options by visiting the Settings tab and tapping the icon in the upper left corner.
This is a pretty small feature in the app but it’s unique enough that I felt I had to mention it. Under the “Settings” tab, you’ll find the option to “scramble” your app. As they explain, this option will allow you to show the app to friends and family without sharing more information than you may have wanted to. When turned on, instead of your real balances, seemingly random numbers presented in ¥ will display. Additionally any account numbers will be hidden, replaced with 0s and sequential numbers. Meanwhile the rest of the app’s functions will remain intact.
To exit Scramble, just tap the red bar at the top of the screen. Could someone you’re showing the app to do this by accident? Probably — but I think it’s a clever idea nonetheless.
Emma Plus and Emma Pro
About Emma Plus and Emma Pro
While Emma is free to download and offers all of the above features at no cost, there are also now two tiers of premium in-app upgrades called Emma Plus and Emma Pro. After a one-week free trial, Emma Plus costs $4.99 a month while Emma Pro games at a cost of $9.99 a month. However, annual subscriptions (paid upfront for a year) appear to be available for $41.99 and $83.99 respectively — which breaks down to a cost of $3.49 and $6.99 a month.
So what do Emma Plus and Emma Pro add? Let’s take a look at each of the bonus features:
On your feed, you may see some Cashback offers for various brands. However, these deals are only available to Plus and Pro members. Some of the current cashback offers are $10 back from NordVPN, 1% back at Best Buy (excluding Apple or gaming products), 8% back from the NHL Shop, and more. Without actually having Emma Plus or Pro, I can’t speak to exactly how these offers work, but I’d imagine it’s similar to Rakuten or other services. On that note… you can probably just use Rakuten or other services instead — or at least compare the options.
Turbo Updates and True Balance
With either premium option, you’re linked accounts will sync four times a day, giving you the most up-to-date info. Meanwhile, True Balance will factor in recurring expenses and subscriptions to help provide you with a balance that better reflects your available funds. This feature is included with both Emma Plus and Emma Pro subscriptions
Another feature offered on both tiers is Bill Reminders. Just as it sounds, this feature allows you receive reminders before a bill is due. Why is this a premium feature and not something Emma just offers by default? That’s a great question — but, alas, I don’t know.
Pro icon (iOS only)
As an added bonus for upgrading to Emma Plus or Pro, you can show off your fancy paid status by changing your app’s icon. For Plus, this special edition is an orangy yellow while the Pro one is a pretty teal blue. Obviously this doesn’t do much in terms of the app’s functionality but I have to admit I didn’t even know that this type of feature was possible. So while I wouldn’t say this is a star perk by any means, props to Emma for the creativity.
Should you need help with your Emma account, you’ll get faster live chat support as an Emma Pro member. Note that the hours for live chat are Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m… although they don’t note which time zone that is.
Custom budget categories
Moving into Emma Pro only, a feature that’s notably missing from the standard version (or Plus version for that matter) of Emma joins the top-tier line-up: the ability to create custom spending categories. It’s a welcome addition but, again, seems like it could be included in the normal app.
Do you have bank accounts that aren’t offered via Plaid or that you simply don’t want to link to Emma? Well, with Emma Pro, you can create offline accounts. This feature is actually pretty cool as it even allows you to import a logo for the account by either uploading a photo or scraping the brand’s Twitter profile.
Another benefit of the Pro version is the ability to export your transaction data from Emma. To do this, simply tap on this option in the app and select which email address you’d like your report to be sent to. The email you receive will contain a link to your download that will expire 48 hours after it was sent.
The file you download is an .xlsx you can open in Excel, Google Sheets, or other programs that support XML spreadsheets. Included on the sheet are:
- Transaction ID
- Date of transaction
- Currency (USD, etc.)
- Transaction Type (Purchase, deposit, transfer)
- Additional details
Honestly, I’m not really sure what I would do with such a sheet but I was definitely impressed with how all of this information was presented and how thorough it was. I’ve also heard other people talk about exporting transaction data as a must-have feature. So, for them, I’d give this aspect of Emma Pro a thumbs up.
Rename transactions and change date
Just as the name implies, this feature allows you to change what name displays on any given transaction. Again, I don’t personally see a major application for this but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have. Plus you can now rename multiple transactions at one time, making this feature more powerful and easier to use when needed.
For those who want to keep track of things like business expenses or just want to get very granular with their purchase categorization, this one is for you. With Emma Pro, you’ll be able to split transactions between as many different categories as you want. Furthermore you can choose to either split the cost evenly or enter the specific amount you want to designate to each category. Of all the Pro-exclusive features, I’d say this is easily among the most helpful and could definitely see using it myself.
Canceling Emma Pro
Whether you want to end your Emma Pro trial before your free week is up or need to take a break for a while, canceling your subscription is mercifully easy. For iOS users like myself, you’ll be able to cancel by visiting your Settings, selecting iTunes & App Store, tapping your Apple ID, and scrolling down to Subscriptions. From there you can not only cancel your current subscription but also view other upgrade options.
Final Thoughts on the Emma App
Overall, I found using Emma to be an enjoyable experience, with its colorful aesthetic and useful features such as the Subscription interface. Furthermore, I’ve also been impressed with how the team at Emma continues to evolve the app — including the recent overhaul. That said, it feels as though a lot of these new features require a paid upgrade to either Emma Plus or Emma Premium. In turn, it can be annoying to discover when you don’t have access to a certain option. For example, I decided to try to add an Offline Account (and was pretty impressed with the process overall) only to be directed to the upgrade page when I was done.
Personally, while some of the features added with these two premium tiers may be useful, I’m not exactly sure they’re worth the up to $9.99 a month you’ll need to pay in order to have access to them all. That said, if you do want to upgrade, I’d recommend paying for a year upfront if you can in order to take advantage of that discounted rate. Also, between the two, I think Emma Pro is the better deal as I see little use in Emma Plus.
While Emma might best be described as a budgeting app, I’d prefer the broader “personal finance app” label. This isn’t to say that its budgeting tools miss the mark but I think the way Emma displays your purchase information makes it more useful to money-conscious non-budgeters like myself. For those reasons, I’d say Emma’s stateside arrival has been successful so far and I look forward to seeing what else the app brings down the road — but users will likely need to think long and hard to determine whether the features are worth the extra cost.
Emma is a budgeting and personal finance app that allows users to track their spending, view multiple account balances, and more. Additionally the app includes other unique features and useful tools to help you manage your money more effectively.
Emma accesses your financial data using Plaid. This information is encrypted end-to-end and your actual banking credentials are never accessible to Emma.
Emma allows you to link various financial accounts in the app not only to see your balances but also monitor how much you’re spending across different categories. The app also includes helpful money tools such as a subscription tracker and much more.
Also published on Medium.