What do you do if you are: a Co-Founder of Tandem; an Alpha tester for Mondo; signed up for Starling; using Monese and still trying to figure out Atom's bubbles? You could be looking at 5 new cards in your wallet (or not - looking at you Curve!) and When the dust settles after this challenger bank explosion, you could have five new banks, as well as your trusty old bank, backing you.
I am excited for 'a better bank', 'a bank that's as smart as my smart phone' and 'a smarter bank for an ever-changing world', we all should be... but what sets these banks apart from the banks we have grown up with and from each other? And who should I stick with?
"The Good Bank." These guys are making a bank that is built around helping it's customers. What this translates to is: "helping you sort out your shit" as Deputy CEO Ricky Knox put it at a recent event for the bank's co-founders. In their crowdfunding video they give clues to services that The Good Bank will provide: Quick, easy, online access to "all accounts" working proactively to "recommend" services that would benefit you as a user. Tandem, then seems an antidote to banks that don't focus on it's people prospering.
Backed by some serious investors, Tandem doesn't want to provide a niche service. In a recent Business Insider article Ricky said "If this becomes massive we want to destroy some big banks along the way."
"My nan wouldn't use Mondo" the words of Founder Tom Bloomfield describing his new bank, and that, I believe, is the whole point: build the perfect bank for certain people. Their ambition is to build a bank that's "as smart as your smart phone." Currently, Mondo is a super slick app and pre-paid card, but when they get their license they will be offering credit just like the others. Mondo grabbed the headlines recently by crowdfunding £1million in 96 seconds... Yeah! They continue to dominate much of the public attention, due in part to their luminous pink cards - when you spot someone in a restaurant pull one out you almost feel compelled to run over and say "I got one too!"
Mondo is the poster boy of this challenger bank race amassing a waiting list of 150,000 people in no time at all.
Much is behind closed doors at the minute, but rest assured there will be some big plans being implemented. They say their bank "wont look much like a bank at all" stating it will be "mobile beyond anything you've ever experienced"... Sounds pretty cool, if not a little cryptic. Anne Boden CEO of Starling says they have taken inspiration from the likes of Facebook and Amazon to fuel their twist on traditional banks. Launching as a current account with "a bit of saving and borrowing" Their focus is on helping customers with their everyday banking needs.
In a recent talk at the Science Museum in London, Starling COO Jullian Sawyer said "We're a tech company in banking. Customers help us design our product." Will this inclusiveness in the process pay off, time will tell.
Heroes of the speedy sign up: "in as little as 120 seconds you'll have your own UK current account." How about that! A Monese bank account will cost you £4.95 a month but comes with some sweet perks, for a mobile only bank: cash deposits, global ATM cash withdrawals, real-time payments between Monese users and mid-market exchange rates between currencies. Monese are trying to get the unbanked banked and have cleverly opted for an Android-first app, much more suited to their target market: immigrants and expats who find it difficult to open a UK bank account.
Monese is up and running having launched with a waiting list of 50,000
people back in September.
The first 'challenger bank' to get it's licence, these guys were the first to come out and say "hey! This needs to change." Based up norf' in Durham, this new bank is headed up by Mark Mullen, a man with plenty of banking pedigree: formally Chief Executive of First Direct and Head of UK Contact Centres, HSBC! They say they are building their bank "for you (us)" and that they will celebrate your individuality with your own logo! Their focus on uniqueness doesn't stop there, oh no. Their app is like no other. Somewhat weird and somewhat wonderful it might be a put some people off, but if you can get past that their bubbly UX shows you your transaction history and your projected finances based on interest and spending habits.
People are already feeling the benefit of their Atom's 2% fixed rate account, but if you want in you'll need a referral code. If not, wait in line like the rest of us.
So those are the key players. Now, who to pick? Its a hard choice, all of them are focussed on 'people' and all of them are mobile first. Atom's 2% offer will likely attract savvy customers as will Mondo's slick interface. Tandem has all the substance of a big bank but is relatively under-wraps, as is Starling. Monese is perfect for its audience but won't be ideal for everyone. Its a tough choice.
Of course, you could have all of them. Open APIs would make it easy to be a part of all of these banks (and more?!). Mondo is leading the way currently with their API, developers are already building some cool stuff with it. We spoke to Atom and an API isn't on the cards just yet, but if the others open APIs you'd be able to increase the liquidity between them all, so your money could flow easily to where ever you needed it, the best of all worlds.
That's what I'll be holding out for, anyway. Because choosing between great products is just too hard.