Britain’s next generation challenger bank has just received a banking license. Atom aims to take 8 million of the 64 million accounts in the UK, for which purpose it has
secured £25 million of investments with an additional £75 million in line to be raised later this year*.
More interestingly, Atom will start with mobile banking only, adding on-line capabilities (internet banking) later. This is similar to the customer acquisition and servicing strategy already used by existing players like Moven and Simple. However, these
are not banks as such as they use a third-party bank as their back-office and for the regulatory cover. Unlike Atom, Moven is already fully operational, with $12.4 million (£7.9 million) of investments
so far and the ambition to reach a client base of 25 million customers globally. By comparing Atom and Moven, we can clearly see
that opening even a “mobile only” bank is at least 10x more expensive than a non-bank player. The key question is whether a digital bank can offer their clients more than Moven-like companies? Will the bank of the future be a bank at all?
Geographical boundaries of banks
Banks need a banking licence to operate in a given territory. Only a handful of banks operate truly globally, due to licensing, different legislation and banking supervision rules. Even in the case of global banks, you cannot just walk into a branch in a
foreign country and top-up your balance. On the other hand, payment card schemes, digital wallet services and blockchain are truly global financial instruments. For instance, sending money overseas with your digital wallet is instant and often free. It is
so simple because, unlike in the banking world, there are no geographical boundaries for the digital services.
The right infrastructure for disruption is in place
Years ago, banks were the obvious place to go when you wanted to perform a non-cash transaction. With the development of the infrastructure we are surrounded by today, non-banking financial services providers do not have to rely on banks for providing transactional
capabilities any more. Firstly, the technology to set up digital wallets with zero marginal cost transactions inside their ecosystem is widely available even to less tech-savvy organisations. Secondly, client on-boarding including KYC (Know Your Customer)
can be solved by calling the API of a service that provide real-time client ID verification. Lastly, but most importantly, clients have the right devices in their hands that allow the delivery of relevant services given the context of the transaction. All
this leads to the emergence of a “super wallet”, a smartphone application that fulfils a broad range of transaction services previously conducted by banks and single purpose financial services e.g. remittance payments providers.
Rise of the digital “super wallet”
The “super wallet” will do most of the transactional activities you have done before without requiring any banking license or being burdened by a legacy banking system, which was designed over 20 years ago. Also, it will replace single purpose financial
services with an umbrella offering by taking care of:
- Peer to Peer payments including cross-border payments (remittance)
- Card present transactions and not-present transactions (via prepaid debit card)
- Payments to merchants directly from the wallet
- NFC payments with smartphone (Host Card Emulation)
- Foreign currency exchange
- Personal budgeting
- Utility payments
- Digital identity management
What’s left for banks? Yes, of course, lending is missing from the list above. However, lending can be provided as a white-label product from a bank with a local license. Banks will perform their underwriting process based on demographic information, credit
history and most importantly, rich transactional information from the “super wallet”. Although the non-banking services described above will still have to comply with AML / KYC rules, they will not require regulatory capital and complex regulatory reporting
and compliance. The resulting savings will be passed to their clients, which will be warmly welcomed in the developed markets. At the same time, lower costs will decrease accessibility criteria for the unbanked population of third-world countries. Therefore,
it seems likely that the bank of the future will not be a bank at all.
The blog post reflects an opinion of the author and it is not an official point of view of PwC.
* Atom’s goal is to achieve 5% market share in 4-5 years with the cost to income ratio below 30% opposed to 50%+ for incumbent lenders.