The neobanking industry may be more exposed to the Covid-19 pandemic than incumbents, but enthusiasm for the business model remains undimmed, with 256 players live and many more waiting in the wings.
The data from Exton Consulting demonstrates the growing appeal to entrepreneurs of challenger bank opportunities, with a new business launching every five days over the past three years.
According to Exton's Country Neobanking Index, Europe is still the engine for innovation with three of the five most advanced markets being located there: the UK as the neobanking powerhouse, followed by Sweden and France. In Europe alone, more than 50 million people have opened a neobanking account.
At the same time, other global markets are catching up quickly, most notably South Korea and Brazil but also the US. China, which given its unique development is difficult to compare to other markets, remains unrivalled with respect to client reach of their financial super apps.
However, the road to riches is proving somewhat rocky, with many players relying largely on payment interchange fees and vulnerable to rising lending defaults. More than 30 neobanks have been wound down since 2015 and the numbers are likely to multiple as the pandemic rages on - witness the recent early demise of Australia's Xinja and the sharp pull back from some markets by others.
"On their quest for monetizing customer relationships neobanks have learned a first lesson: payment transaction fees, premium account subscription fees, or open banking commissions from brokering 3rd party services will in most cases not be sufficient to generate profits or breach beyond operational break-even," says Exton. "Our expectation much rather is that Neobanks will need to offer additional products to jump the gap to sizable profitability."
According to Exton a move into digital lending may provide just such an opportunity, Alternatively the morphing of the product outside of financial services via the development of a super app is another option. The third possible path for neobanks to profitability lies in providing investment services to the mass affluent market.
States the report: "Irrespective of which path neobanks will take, we remain convinced that they will need to shift into profitability mode quickly as investor patience will not be unlimited. But for those that select the paths right for them, stay focused on it and grow up as an organization, the future remains bright and full of opportunities."