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Challenger bank review 2019

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There’s never been a better time to look for a new current account, especially with all of the variety offered from challenger banks who have continued to make an impact on the retail banking sector in 2019.

The following UK challenger banks are included in this review:

As recently as April 2019, a survey by Which? cited Monzo Bank as having the best customer satisfaction score ahead of First Direct and Nationwide. Furthermore, BACS have published the latest current account switch service statistics (covering the period 1st January to the 31st March 2019), revealing that both Monzo and Starling are now included in fourth and fifth place in terms of switching performance.

We’ve put together a short review of the current challenger banks on offer to UK customers, allowing you to make an informed decision if you were thinking of making the switch. We also briefly explore the popularity of challenger banks and why they are such a good option for UK customers.

This article will be updated regularly to keep up with any new developments for each challenger bank.

What is a challenger bank?

A challenger bank refers to a newly created digital-only banking establishment in the UK, as an alternative to traditional high-street banks. You will often hear them being referred to as app-based banks or neo-banks in some instances. They are normally categorised by the following:

  • Primarily offer current accounts or business accounts
  • Banking is all app-based
  • No high street branches
  • Support available online
  • Often allows for free transactions while abroad
  • Usually offer a convenient savings option

They are often much smaller than well-established high-street banks, but are becoming increasingly popular with customers who wish to switch to a more dynamic and easy-to use bank. Read up on the advantages of app-based banks here.

Why should I choose a challenger bank?

So why are challenger banks so popular? Their digital-only format certainly appeals to the generation of smartphone-equipped, tech-savvy young people (otherwise known as millennials, Gen Y or another similar generational term).

But they do have a universal appeal in that they fit so comfortably into our lives. They are available on-the-go via a whole range of smart devices, they don’t have physical branches so there’s no need to go out of your way, and all support is available online or within the app. Challenger banks well and truly fit around us, not the other way around.

Part of that appeal is that they are a viable alternative to traditional high-street banks that customers may have had a poor experience with in the past. They are a breath of fresh air in the industry and offer something a little different, and even a little more fashionable given their strong branding and messaging.

Challenger bank review

If you’re thinking of making the switch to a challenger bank, it can be useful to get a glimpse of all the options on offer so you can make an informed decision.

Now that many challenger banks have increased in popularity compared to high-street banks, it’s also interesting to note which ones have the largest share of customers, and which ones are just getting started.

N26 review

 Offers 3 types of current account

 Choose a different coloured card with N26 You or a Metal card with the Metal account

 Use Spaces to put money aside and make savings every month

 Use MoneyBeam to make instant transfers between N26 accounts

 Set up direct debits for free

 Unlimited free ATM withdrawals in the UK

 Fee-free transactions abroad as standard

 Supports Google Pay and Apply Pay

 Can access your account online using their WebApp

 Need to have a newer smartphone to apply

 Cannot deposit cash in the UK – only top up the account through a transfer

 Card delivery can take up to 10 days

 Standing orders are not available

 1.7% surcharge for withdrawing cash abroad

It’s surprising to think that N26 only launched in the US and UK in 2018, considering how popular they have become with customers. Their 3 current account products appeal to customers looking for an equivalent to a standard or packaged current account, with easy options to save by creating ‘Spaces’ within the app.

Alongside their banking app, they also provide a desktop version called N26 Web, so customers can gain access to their account from practically any device. In addition, they’re currently working on an overdraft facility that should be available soon in the UK.

Read the full review

Revolut review

 Offers 3 types of current account

 Premium and Metal account available for a monthly fee

 Save money easily with Vaults, including rounding up spare change

 Free transactions abroad as standard

 Ability to exchange to cryptocurrencies

 Earn cashback on purchases with Metal card

 Supports Google Pay and Apple Pay

 Generate up to 5 virtual cards to pay for items online

 Exchange up to 5 cryptocurrencies in-app

 Unless you have a promotion a physical card costs £4.99

 Card delivery takes up to 9 working days

 Android tablets not supported for the app

 Fees charged if you withdraw more than £200 in cash per month (limit differs for Premium and Metal)

 Transfers can take 3-5 working days unless you have a Premium or Metal account

Launched back in 2015, Revolut is now one of the largest challenger banks in the market. In March 2019 they reported they had hit 4.5 million customers, with 1.6 million being UK-based.

They are one of the only challengers to allow customers to exchange money into cryptocurrencies and you can also earn cashback with any purchase made on their Metal card. Their version of a savings account comes in the form of Vaults, which can be set up straight from the app.

Read the full review

Starling Bank review

 Offers a Personal or Joint current account

 Euro and Teen accounts also available

 Analyse your habits with Spending Insights

 Use Goals to save money easily

 Earn interest of up to 0.5% from your balance

 Overdraft facility available

 Personal loans available

 Supports Google Pay and Apple Pay

 Overdrafts come with a 15% equivalent annual rate

 Additional 0.4% fee for sending payments overseas

 If you lose your card abroad you could be charged £60

 If you need to certify documents you will be charged £20

Having just recently celebrated their two-year anniversary, Starling is another challenger bank who are going from strength-to-strength in the UK. They have recently developed Marketplace, making it even easier for customers to access financial products from partner companies.

Despite not offering a premium current account, Starling still manage to offer an overdraft facility and even a personal loan option, being one of the only challenger banks to do so. They became known for offering a portrait-style, teal debit card, but customers have flocked to the bank for other features such as saving money via Goals and analysing their accounts through Spending Insights.

Read the full review

Monese review

 Monese Simple is a free current account

 Classic and Premium both have a monthly fee (£4.95 and £14.95 respectively)

 Easy to apply as you don’t need proof of address or credit history

 Free secondary account for GBP or EUR so you can spend in two different currencies

 Instant transfers between Monese accounts

 Supports Google Pay and Apple Pay

 No proof of address required

 Cash withdrawals above £200 per month incur a 2% charge (limit differs for Classic and Premium)

 Foreign spending above £2,000 per month incur a 2% fee (limit differs for Classic and Premium)

 Additional fee of up to 2% for international transfers or payments (Premium is free)

 Can’t use the card for pay at the pump transactions

Monese prides itself on being the simple alternative to high-street banks, built for customers who would like an easy route into managing their money. They have one free current account and two premium accounts that charge a monthly fee.

This hassle-free approach to banking appeals particularly to those who have emigrated from another country to the UK, as Monese doesn’t require proof of address or a credit history, making it much easier to apply and be accepted.

Read the full review

Cashplus review

 Offers two types of current account

 Activeplus and Deluxe both charge a monthly fee

 Ideal for those with a bad credit history

 Get an extension on your account using the iDraft overdraft feature

 Creditbuilder feature is a free add-on to improve your credit score over a 12-month period

 No credit checks required on application

 Manage your account online if you can’t access the app

 Order a free currency card in Euros or Dollars

 No free account options

 Physical debit card costs £5.95

 ATM withdrawals cost £2 in the UK and £3 abroad

 Allowed up to 9 free transfers per month and a £0.99 fee thereafter

 iDraft costs £20 to arrange then 75p per day, capped at £10 per month

Cashplus are a challenger who have entered both the personal banking and business banking sectors, allowing those with a bad credit score to still benefit from a secure bank account that suits them.

Both of their current account offerings have a monthly fee, but don’t require a credit check, making it much easier to apply and keeping your credit score intact. Through the Creditbuilder feature, you can also start to make improvements to your credit score over 12 months, with no risk to yourself.

Read the full review

Monzo Bank review

 Offers 4 types of accounts

 Premium account has bundles for you to choose from

 Use ‘Pots’ to save money and earn up to 1.5% AER interest

 Monzo will advance your salary payment by one day, meaning you get paid 24 hours early

 Manage your money with notifications about your direct debits

 Spending on your card abroad incurs no fees

 Unlimited free ATM withdrawals

 Supports Google Pay and Apple Pay

 Overdraft facility available

 Pay in cash using Paypoint

 Pay in cheques through freepost delivery

 Any cash withdrawals over £200 per month will have a 3% fee added

 Daily cash withdrawal limit of £400 and monthly limit of £5,500

 A Monzo overdraft costs 50p per day

 Cheques can take up to 3 weeks to appear in your account

Cited as one of the most popular challengers in the UK (according to the BACS switching statistics), Monzo Bank is now used by more than 2 million people, since their launch in early 2015. They pride themselves on being transparent with customers and have an active community forum with 40k users.

They have recently launched a premium account option called Monzo Plus, which is in early development but has started with a monthly fee of £3. You can then add on extras such as travel insurance, with many more options in the pipeline.

Read the full review

Tandem review

 Tandem app gives you easy ways to save

 Autosavings rounds up loose change and puts it aside in a savings account

 No need to open a new current account

 Two types of Credit Card available

 Three types of Fixed Savings accounts available

 Available on App Store and Google Play Store

 Ideal for those who want to start saving more money

 Does not provide any current account options

 Need a modern smartphone to use properly

 Not ideal for those looking to switch banks

 £12 late fee for credit cards

 Withdrawing cash with credit cards has a minimum charge of £2.50

Rather than offering a current account as a main product, Tandem focus on being a companion to your existing current account, helping you work in tandem with your finances. All you need to do is download their free app and start saving.

Unlike other major challengers, Tandem concentrates on offering savings accounts and credit cards to customers, alongside their money management app. Use of the app creates a seamless transition between your existing current account and a savings pot, which rounds up to the nearest pound using Autosavings and puts the change into a pot for later use.

They are looking at implementing a full current account very soon, along with support for Apple Pay and Google Pay too.

Read the full review

Atom Bank review

 Offers products for saving, buying and growing

 Save money with a fixed saver account from 3 months to 5 years

 One of the only challenger banks to offer mortgages

 Business loans for Sole Traders, Partnerships, LLPs and Limited Companies

 Free app to track ongoing payments or apply for new products

 Competitive rates

 Good app-based alternative to high street lenders

 Available on App Store and Google Play store

 Existing current account required

 Doesn’t offer current accounts, personal loans or credit cards

 Good credit score required for mortgages and business loans

 No flexible savings pots available

Atom Bank have entered the challenger space by providing savings accounts, mortgages and business loans to customers, all available by applying online and managing through their app. Like Tandem, Atom Bank are a challenger that you can use alongside your existing current account to help with saving for the future.

Along with providing competitive rates for their fixed savers accounts, they are also the only challenger in our list to provide mortgages, meaning potential homeowners can find an alternative to high-street banks when looking for funding.

Read the full review

Which is the best challenger bank for me?

There are plenty of options for those thinking of switching their current account, including many challenger bank options too. Start browsing our choice of challenger banks and other current accounts using the link below.

Robert Bester

Updated on 30th September 2019