Challenger banks are small, recently created retail banks that compete directly with the longer-established banks in the UK,[1][2][3] sometimes by specialising in areas underserved by the "big four" banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, and NatWest Group).[3] As well as new entrants to the market, some challenger banks were created following divestment from larger banking groups (TSB Bank from Lloyds Banking Group) or wind-down of a failed large bank (Virgin Money from Northern Rock).[4][5]

The banks distinguish themselves from the historic banks by modern financial technology practices, such as online-only operations, that avoid the costs and complexities of traditional banking.[6]


Prior to changes in the regulatory landscape in the UK financial services industry, setting up a new bank, with a full UK banking licence, was extremely expensive and time-consuming. This led to a very small number of banks dominating the UK market—the so-called Big Four—with virtually no competition at all. Indeed, when Metro Bank received their license in 2010, it was the first new high street bank for 100 years.[7]

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, it was decided to open the market up to new banks. After a period of consultation,[8] the regulation to enable this formed part of the Financial Services Act 2012, which came into force on 1 April 2013. A summary and assessment from Harvard Law School can be accessed online.[9]

To assist new firms to enter the banking market, the PRA, part of the Bank of England, set up their New Bank Start-up Unit which guides firms through the process from an expression of interest, through the application process, to 'authorisation with restrictions' if appropriate, and finally to those restrictions being lifted and the firm being granted a full banking license.

In July 2014, the PRA, together with their co-regulators, the Financial Conduct Authority published a review of the requirements, one year on.[10]

List of challenger banks

This list contains companies that received authorisation from the PRA to operate as banks in the UK.

Bank Established Status
Atom Bank[11] 2015 App-based bank offering savings and mortgages.
Monzo[12] 2016 One of the early app-based banks, Monzo has 9.3 million customers as of June, 2024.
Metro Bank[13] 2010 The first high street bank to launch in the UK in over 150 years. In 2019 it lost £800m (40%) of its company value as the result of an accounting error in which its commercial loans were misclassified.[14] An investigation by the PRA resulted in the bank being fined £5.38m by the PRA in December 2021.[15] In November 2021, it entered talks with the Carlyle Group concerning a possible takeover bid.[16]
N26[17] 2016 A German app-based bank which ceased to do business in the UK in April 2020. The UK's exit from the European Union terminated the ability to "passport" a European banking licence, necessitating applying for a British banking licence to continue which N26 decided would be too complex and expensive.[18]
OakNorth Bank[19] 2015 Provides business and property loans to SMEs.
Perenna Bank Plc 2018 (2023[20]) Providing 'fixed for life' long term mortgages[21]
Shawbrook Bank[22] 2011 Provides savings, business finance, property finance, personal loans.
Starling Bank[23] 2014 Starling Bank was founded by former Allied Irish Banks COO, Anne Boden, in January 2014.
Tandem[24] 2015 The former Harrods Bank, founded in 1893, which was acquired in January 2018 by fintech startup Tandem Money and renamed.
Tide 2015 A UK financial technology company specialising in accounts for small and medium-sized businesses, offering FSCS protected bank accounts provided by ClearBank.
The Bank of London[25] 2020 A universal bank. The second new principal clearing bank set up in over 250 years, it is also the first bank to attain unicorn status upon debut, after achieving a valuation of over $1.1B.[26][27]
Virgin Money[28] 1995 A holding company that owns Clydesdale Bank plc, which in turn trades as Clydesdale Bank, Yorkshire Bank, and Virgin Money. It was originally set up by National Australia Bank (NAB) in February 2016, when it was called CYBG plc.

See also


  1. ^ "Challenger bank". Oxford University Press. 2017. Archived from the original on 18 August 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  2. ^ Zhuplev, Anatoly V., ed. (2018). "Challenger Banks". Disruptive Technologies for Business Development and Strategic Advantage. IGI Global. p. 106. ISBN 9781522541493 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b Wallace, Tim (29 December 2015). "Are challenger banks the saviours of British banking?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 August 2017.
  4. ^ Bowman, Andrew (2014). The End of the Experiment?: From Competition to the Foundational Economy. Manchester University Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-7190-9633-4 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Moore, James (4 October 2018). "As watchdogs approve CYBG and Virgin Money's merger, should the big five banks be worried?". The Independent. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  6. ^ Flinders, Karl (21 January 2015). "Six challenger banks using IT to shake up UK retail banking". Computer Weekly. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  7. ^ Wallop, Harry (5 March 2010). "Metro bank granted FSA licence". The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  8. ^ "A new approach to financial regulation: transferring consumer credit regulation to the Financial Conduct Authority". UK Government. 16 January 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  9. ^ Noked, Noam (24 March 2013). "Financial Services Act 2012: A New UK Financial Regulatory Framework". Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  10. ^ "A review of requirements for firms entering into or expanding in the banking sector: one year on" (PDF). Prudential Regulation Authority. July 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  11. ^ O'Hear, Steve (6 April 2016). "Atom is the first of the new UK challenger banks out the gate — sort of". TechCrunch. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  12. ^ O’Hear, Steve. "Monzo, a UK digital-only challenger bank, granted full banking license". TechCrunch. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  13. ^ Wallop, Harry (1 February 2010). "First high street bank 100 years, but will Metro Bank get a licence?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  14. ^ "Metro Bank shares crash after loans blunder revealed". The Guardian. 23 January 2019. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  15. ^ Cohn, Carolyn (22 December 2021). "Bank of England fines Metro Bank $7 mln after accounting blunder". Reuters. Retrieved 22 December 2021.
  16. ^ Wiggins, Kaye; Venkataramakrishnan, Siddharth; Morris, Stephen (4 November 2021). "Metro Bank receives takeover approach from Carlyle". Financial Times.
  17. ^ Dillet, Romain (16 March 2016). "Number26 Grabs $10.6 Million To Bring Its Bank Of The Future To Everyone". TechCrunch. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  18. ^ Williams-Grut, Oscar (11 February 2020). "German bank N26 blames Brexit as it pulls out of UK". Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  19. ^ Scuffham, Matt (9 March 2015). "OakNorth gets banking licence, appoints Adair Turner to board". Reuters. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  20. ^ "New banks authorised since 2013". Bank of England. Bank of England. Retrieved 26 September 2023.
  21. ^ Jones, Rupert (7 September 2023). "New UK mortgage lender Perenna offers 30-year fixed-rate deals". The Guardian.
  22. ^ Goff, Sharlene; Arnold, Martin (18 March 2014). "UK 'challenger' banks plan listings worth £10bn". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  23. ^ Moskvitch, Katia (7 February 2019). "Legacy banks are fighting back against the Monzo insurrection". Wired UK. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  24. ^ Williams-Grut, Oscar (1 December 2015). "Britain just got a new digital bank and it's raising tens of millions of pounds". Business Insider. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  25. ^ "Four fintech trends to watch in 2022 and beyond". FinTech Futures. 31 December 2021. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  26. ^ "Inside the world of clearing banks: Is the Bank of London worth the 250 year wait?". CityAM. 11 January 2022. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  27. ^ "Bank of London debuts as first new UK clearing bank in 250 years with global plans". InternationalInvestment. 1 December 2021. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  28. ^ "CYBG improves bid for Virgin Money". BBC News. 3 June 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2019.