The 2008 crisis made the world lose hope in the banking sector that was dominated by a few big banks. The long reign of incumbent banks was bound to be challenged to facilitate greater transparency and competition. It wasn’t long after 2008, that some upstarts seized the opportunity. The world saw the rise of a new bank here to disrupt the aged-old incumbents – the challenger bank.
Challenger banks or neobanks, have a trait that sets them apart from their traditional counterparts – their focus on digital technology and online customer experience. Although the digitalisation of banks has been gaining momentum over the years, challenger banks have more than often been the conceptual pioneers. Traditional banks still need to learn how to harness the power of technology to provide true customer-centric experiences and adapt to the dynamics of a new world.
In the UK, challenger banks experienced a steady flow of investments despite a drop in 2019, which quickly recovered in 2020. There have been 24 fundraisings announced for 18 challenger banks in the last year, with a total of 787 million secured till november. Out of these, 77% of equity raised went to three main challengers: Revolut, Monzo and Starling Bank. Apart from these, Monese, a London-based challenger is picking up reach and traction across the European market as well. To add to the list of the UK challengers, there is one more bank that also secured a significant investment this year – Atom Bank. Since the bank took the B2B route, it has a comparatively low profile, but it still represents the essence of the neobank market.
Which UK challenger bank apps were downloaded the most in 2020?
With investments pouring into the dynamic challenger bank landscape, the intensifying competition is leading to banks fighting for the attention of users. So how do some of the leading UK challenger banks stack up against each other?
To help identify which UK challenger bank applications were the most sought after by customers, we dug into the number of applications downloaded worldwide for some of the leading UK banks across IOS and Android until June 2020.
The data revealed that Revolut topped the charts with 2.7 million downloads, a figure that is 3 times more than Monzo, the next leading bank, with 916 thousand downloads. The next few banks to make the list in terms of leading downloads are Monese with 570 thousand downloads, Starling with 461 thousand downloads and Atom bank with 22 thousand downloads. Though these banks are true industry disruptors, the combined downloads of all 3 banks: Monese, Starling and Atom bank are less than half than that of Revolut. The neobank prodigy, Revolut’s rate of acceleration into the market is strikingly evident from the data.
David Brear, the chief executive of 11:FS while talking about Revolut’s successful download metrics said, “While downloads do not equate directly to new customers, the fact that they are more than Monzo and Starling combined nearly every month speaks to their continual impact on the industry.”.
What’s the secret to the leading challenger banks’ success?
The figures crowned Revolut victorious, but what has the leading challenger done to climb to success? Revolut’s success can be attributed to its rapid expansion overseas, that has led to the bank propping up in 36 countries, a number that barely compares to other UK challenger banks. Monzo, though falls short of Revolut’s worldwide penetration with expansion only into the US apart from the UK – it has seen significant success in its home country, with one in every 20 adults in the UK having a Monzo account. While Starling and Monese focused on establishing operations across Europe last year, Monese has been doing things differently. Monese has managed to reach a significant number of downloads as its focus is not the regular challenger bank’s target – millennials. It has focused on reaching a market that has a real need – those underserved by the financial market, primarily migrants.
Utilities provided by neobanks are another reason why some banks are attractive in comparison to others. This is why customers just can’t get enough of Revolut. It has an irresistible offering of a plethora of functionalities. The fintech Unicorn offers customers about 794 distinct functionalities, this is almost double of that offered by Monzo (377), Monese (385) or Starling (374). Atom is the only bank that lags significantly in accelerating its functional capabilities, with just 64 functions.
Though Atom has been slow to catch on in some aspects, it is winning in another – providing an exceptional customer experience by facilitating a seamless user journey. When the leading challenger banks were tested for their user journeys while activating an account, Atom topped the charts, followed by Revolut and Monese. Monzo and Starling were the two challengers that scored poorly on this metric and would need to ramp up operations to fix these crevices in their strong foundation.
Apart from these tangible benefits that place banks at the forefront of the banking revolution, there is another important element that needs to be factored into success – trust. As customers gain greater trust, they would be more willing to deposit greater sums of money with their bank. Revolut seems to be leading the way here as well. This is evident from the fact that customers are willing to deposit large sums of money into their Revolut accounts compared to other challenger banks. Revolut’s deposits average at £251.66 as compared to Monzo, with just £142 in 2018. Starling Bank seems to have the upperhand over Monzo as well, as its total deposits exceeded Monzo’s by over £100 million in 2018.
All-in-all customers flock to download applications that they can trust and are here to make their lives simpler and hassle free by keeping customer needs at the center of their value proposition.
How has COVID-19 thwarted the success of challenger banks?
Though challenger banks, being digital pioneers, should be the norm of the land in a digitally transformed COVID-19 world – these banks saw a decline in monthly downloads towards the end of 2020. Monthly downloads of Revolut plummeted from 8,00,000 at the beginning of the year to just 4,00,000 in November. Starling Bank witnessed this as well, though only slightly, as its downloads fell from 100,000 a month to 80,000 in April 2020.
This dramatic decline can be attributed to one key aspect – fidelity. Though we see some challenger banks have been able to garner greater trust as compared to their peers, they still have a lot of work to do to prove their reliability when compared against incumbents. The COVID-19 crisis helped bring to light that challenger banks may not be able to seduce a larger consumer base solely with their ‘innovations’ and fun user interfaces. It’s time they work towards establishing themselves as the banks that will stand strong during the bad times as well in order to foster sustainable success and profits.
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