Many of the UK's leading high street banks have fallen behind their upstart digital rivals when it comes to making it easy and fast to open an account, suggests a review of 12 players' user experience.
After decades in which a handful of giants dominated the market, the British banking scene has been shaken up in recent years by a host of challengers promising customers a slicker digital experience.
These challengers - including Starling, Monzo and Revolut - have quickly gained millions of customers and billion pound-plus valuations. One recent study estimates that within five years 44% of Brits will have a digital-only bank.
UX expert Peter Ramsey from Built for Mars has investigated whether these new entrants do actually make the process of opening an account better. He applied at 12 banks, finding huge disparities between providers in how they handle the process.
Ramsey says that it took just two working days to have an active account at Monzo and Starling. Barclays matched the upstarts but most traditional lenders took far longer, with laggard HSBC requiring a huge 36 days.
In terms of how many clicks it took to create an account, the three challengers - Revolut, Starling and Monzo - took the top three positions, ranging from 24 to 45 clicks. Bottom of the pile was first direct, once the brave new face of 'direct' banking, which required Ramsey to make 120 clicks.
A major reason for the difference is that while all three challengers let users open an account via the app, only Barclays of the traditional players offers the same option. The others require users to go to their website at least one to activate an account.
Ramsey also finds that challengers are ahead of their rivals when it comes to giving customers instant access to Apple Pay, meaning that cards can be used before they are physically delivered.
"This is immensely subtle and clever. That simple change of perspective makes opening an account with Monzo, Revolut and Starling feel instant, even if it really does take a few days to get full access to your account. You get an immediate feeling of ownership and objective success," write Ramsey.
Another area where some banks are lagging is the use of digital identity verification, with Co-op, first direct, HSBC, Lloyds and Santander all failing to use the technology, which can save customers a trip to the branch.
Finally, the three challengers only ask applicants for their current address for credit searches. All the traditional banks require at least one previous address. Ramsey notes that this is not a straightforward call, requiring a trade-off between ease of use and ensuring that a credit report can be found.
But overall, concludes Ramsey: "It’s not even close: opening an account with any of the challenger banks, is considerably better than with any traditional bank."