How Monzo, Revolut, Starling and N26 plan to topple legacy banks


Digital banks aren’t going anywhere – with Monzo, Starling Bank, Revolut and N26 starting to rival legacy banks. Perhaps best known for their personal finance apps, they are now also starting to sell financial products. And there’s a lot more to come.

Meanwhile, traditional high-street banks are trying to up their game by investing in – and imitating – their digital offerings. Last month, for instance, NatWest began trialling Mimo, a new personal finance app with budgeting tools, spending insights and reminders. It will be rolled out later in 2019. Barclays, HSBC and others are also jumping on the bandwagon and adding features to their existing mobile banking apps.

By nature of their size, legacy banks tend to offer a wider range of financial products such as credit cards, mortgages and loans – but the fintech catch-up game doesn’t stop here. Challenger banks benefit from lower operational costs due to the lack of physical branches. They’re able to test and release new products quickly, even if they’re just in a beta version.

Now that millions of current and saving accounts have been set up through their apps, these digital-only banks are taking the next steps to move into the serious world of financial services, helping users find the best insurance and utility providers. Here’s what they’ve got coming up in the coming months and beyond.


With well over a million customers, Monzo is the fastest-growing digital bank in the UK. Probably best known for its bright pink debit cards, its app is designed to easily organise, track and save money. Four years after launch, the London-based company has now cast an eye on business banking.

Monzo’s active community of users has been requesting a business account for some time. To help fund the rollout of the new product, the company has applied for a grant from the Royal Bank of Scotland – during the 2009 financial crisis, the RBS received a £45 billion bailout from the UK government under the condition that £700 million would be set aside for SME banks to create more competition.

Later in the year, the company will also be bringing in third-party services such as accounting software that can be purchased with just a few taps. A hundred users are currently trialling a beta version of the product before it’s opened up for the next wave. While you can register your interest, don’t get too excited: some 10,000 people are already in the queue.

Personal users can expect more from Monzo, too. The soon-to-be-launched Monzo Plus will come with flexible add-ons: For a small monthly fee, your phone or trips will be insured, giving you access to emergency cash while travelling.

Starling Bank

Starling, Monzo’s main rival in the UK, has been offering business accounts since March 2018 and has had some 42,000 SME businesses sign up since. It also has more than 550,000 personal accounts. There are no fees to have an account, make domestic transfers and withdraw cash; notifications will pop up on your phone screen every time money enters or leaves the account.

The transactions can also be exported in a spreadsheet to share with an accountant or sync with Starling’s partner softwares FreeAgent and Xero. Via the in-app marketplace, you can also register with other third-party providers to access investment tools and pension schemes, for instance – Starling doesn’t take a cut. And for just £3, cash can be deposited at a Post Office branch; getting it back out will cost you another 50p though.

The mobile bank has already won a slice of the RBS grant pie in February and will be using it to expand its offering for business customers, including a web portal that allows users to easily switch between their mobile device and a computer to manage their accounts. The portal will be rolled out in autumn.

Starling is a fully-licensed bank in the UK and has now put in an application for a banking license in Ireland, which will serve as a passport into other EU countries. Until then, users who want to hold, send and receive payments in euros can just convert their pounds commission-free.


With nearly five million users in 31 countries, Revolut keeps expanding (despite some internal troubles). This summer, the London-based company is turning its focus to a slightly younger audience with Revolut Youth, an account for eight to 18-year-olds. Parents will be able to add children to their account as a secondary user, managing pocket money and viewing their transactions.

While the features are still being tested, the app will keep track of chores kids need to complete along with related rewards to that chore. This may come in particularly handy for busy parents who don’t always have small cash in their pocket. Children, on the other hand, can decide how to share or spend it, or pool it in a saving pot. They’ll even get to choose their own debit card. Revolut will connect its app with Google and Apple Pay, offering another way for parents and children to make purchases using their devices.

For those travelling a lot but not convinced whether to get an annual insurance, Revolut offers a pay-per-day option. It starts when you arrive abroad and can be enabled in the Insurance section of the app. The app uses your location to work out where you are in the world and work out the price accordingly, starting at £1 a day. It also offers the option to add a travel companion, winter sport or cruise cover in the first eight hours of any trip.


Launched in 2013, Germany’s N26 app became available to UK residents last year. It’s already quite popular across the Eurozone with some 2.5m subscribers in 24 countries, and 1,000 UK customers signing up a day, according to the company. What will happen to N26’s pan-European financial services “passport” after Brexit remains to be seen, but the company is already planning on expanding to the US.

Just like its rivals, N26 offers budgeting tools, spending insights, easy payments as part of its basic current account but positions itself as the go-to bank for frequent travellers. For a fixed monthly fee of £4.90, the recently launched Black premium account allows for free withdrawals at ATMs anywhere in the world – exchange rates are set by Mastercard. Monzo too absorbed the international ATM charge when it launched in 2015, but soon realised that it needed to cover these extra costs and, as a result, capped the free allowance abroad at £200 a month in 2018.

With a basic N26 account, each cash withdrawal abroad would charge a 1.7 per cent fee. It’s a good idea to do the maths before signing up for the 12 months minimum membership – you’d need to withdraw at least £288 a month abroad to make it worthwhile. N26 is also partnering up with third parties to offer customers more than just a personal finance app, from travel insurances to exclusive deals with WeWork’s workspaces, hotels, and Babbel’s language learning apps. But these benefits and perks come with a higher monthly fee.