This robot can save you hundreds of pounds by cancelling expensive subscriptions

Cara McGoogan
Smart Bill estimates is could save users more than £1,000 a year

A robot that can spot unnecessary subscriptions in users' bank accounts could help people save hundreds of pounds of wasted fees a year. 

Designed to help users save money, the robot scans users' bills for "subscription traps", when companies lure customers into paying large regular sums by encouraging them to sign up to free or cheaper trial periods. 

Once the robot spots an recurring payment it alerts users and offers to unsubscribe from it on their behalf. Since it launched last week the Smart Bill app has saved users an average of £300. 

Subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hello Fresh are becoming increasingly popular, but more than 60 per cent of the UK population lose money to "subscription traps", which cost around £4 billion a year, according to consumer watchdog Contact Numbers.

Smart Bill, the company behind the robot, estimates 18 per cent of people aged between 18 and 35 waste £1,164 on subscriptions they don't need per year. Such payments are often for small amounts and can be hidden by other daily transactions. 

"Subscription payments are tricky to spot because they are usually for comparatively small amounts hidden within all of your other transactions," said Nikhil Shah, chief executive of Smart Bill.. 

Smart Bill gives users an overview of their recurring expenses  Credit: Smart Bill

He added that companies often make it difficult to cancel subscriptions. "They know we would rather not spend our Saturday afternoons on the phone, trying to cancel smallish payments that occur once a quarter," he said.

The Smart Bill robot scans users' bank accounts and collects the information in one app, highlighting recurring payments. It can warn users ahead of large repeat payments leaving their accounts, as well as monitoring for prices going up and alerting them when they do. 

The company will also cancel bills on users' behalf when instructed, which it does manually by contacting the biller. "One user found a $2,000 (£1,560) monthly recurring charge," Shah said.

Shah said the app retrieves the financial information via Yodlee, a software company that allows users to share financial details and that it uses "bank level security", which includes encrypting users' data. The company assures users it doesn't save their information on its servers or share it with third parties, and that it doesn't have the ability to access their money.  

The Government is also looking at ways to tackle the problem and recently proposed the introduction of additional safeguards for consumers, including more clarity about when they're entering into a subscription deal. The proposals, released as a green paper alongside the Spring Budget, could also ban companies from collecting credit card information for free trials. 

Smart Bill has plans to create more money saving technologies. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Shah. "In the future, we will save people money across the entire spectrum of household payments."

The start-up, which is on Y-Combinator's distance mentoring programme, is now working on tools to monitor contracts and look for deals for consumers so that they don't need to be constantly thinking about money saving tricks such as switching energy provider. 

It isn't the first company to help consumers tackle petty fees using technology. A "robot lawyer" made the news last year after it overturned 160,000 parking fines in London and New York. 

RegisterLog incommenting policy