2018 has definitely been the year of FinTech. Several crowdfunded, mobile(app)-only alternatives to high-street banking have become a BIG deal, despite having only acquired their banking licenses in the last few years.
Slowly they are beginning to cause cracks in the monopoly the big high street banks have maintained for over a century; hence the new name: ‘challenger banks’. The improvements these progressive start-ups have made, and continue to make, to banking as we know it, have truly raised the bar. We can now make free international withdrawals and payments, get real-time spend notifications, split bills and transfer money easier than ever before.
There’s even AI that helps you calculate budget and spending, and notifies you if you’re going too fast. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most significantly, the financial crisis left everyone so desperate for a more ethical banking culture that these new banks have been able to use transparency to attract hundreds of thousands of customers. Which leads us to pose the question: you’re not still banking on the high street are you?
Here we identify the top four challenger banks to watch and why:
This month, UK startup Revolut, founded in 2015, surpassed 3 million customers. Currently valued at almost $1.7 billion, they are recognised as having run one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns ever, raising over $5 million in under 24 hours. This year, after launching a new debit card that offers support for several cryptocurrencies, their customer base reached 3 million. “Three years ago, banks and investors laughed at us,” they boldly announced on Twitter in a thank you to their customer base, “Today, we have signed up three million customers…and no one is laughing now.” Their contactless metal card comes with all sorts of enticing features including fee-free ATM withdrawals abroad, an Iban account for Euros, access to five different currencies and cashback on all purchases.
Monzo is still the fastest growing mobile-only bank in the UK, accounting for around 15% of all new bank accounts. In October, having just secured a new $100 million investment, it joined fellow ‘unicorns’ Klarna and Stripe with a $1 billion valuation. Not only is it growing faster than all of its big name competitors, the Monzo team are doing it while spending hardly anything on advertising. This is partly to do with their approach to customer service, transparency, and the fierce advocacy of its users, especially online, where its community is akin to a fan base. That, and the fact that Monzo offers some incredible features like AI-based smart budgeting, automated bill-splitting, peer-to-peer transfers and optional blocks to payments to street bookies and betting sites that can only be lifted with 48 hours’ notice.
Another challenger fusing modern financial technology with the tried-and-tested conventions of traditional banking is Starling Bank. With “only” 320,000 customers, its next $80m round of funding will set it up to challenge Monzo and Revolut for prime position. Meanwhile a potential $120m from the RBS “Remedies Fund” (a clause of their bailout deal during the crisis) is soon to be confirmed. Like the other mobile-only challengers, you can set up savings pots, analyse your spending and split bills. They also pay a small amount of interest on your savings, and cap any unauthorised charges to your overdraft at £2 a month (compare that to Barclays’ typical £1.50-£3.00 per day!). They also give their customers access to a digital marketplace that offers a range of financial services from other providers.
This year, Durham-based Atom, co-founded by the former chairman of Metro Bank and former CEO of First Direct, made it to number nine in the Fintech 100 rankings. This made it the highest ranked FinTech business in Europe (and the fourth time in as many years that it has placed in the top 100). To date Atom has raised around $500m from investors, and is backed by Spanish bank, BBVA (who own 39% of the business). Not yet a current account, Atom offers a fixed-rate savings account and mortgages through a digital broker, as well as blogs, videos, personal branding and all sorts of features to streamline your banking experience. They’ve also introduced biometric security which uses your voice and face to grant access. Banking has never been so secure.