Digital banking has exploded in popularity this year, leading to a sharp rise in interest and increased attention from the traditional finance sector.
Google Trends reveals that searches for the term 'Digital Bank' hit a peak on August 25th this year, reaching a popularity value of 100. This is likely to rise even further as many technologically progressive nations around the world begin issuing banking licenses to digital bank startups.
Switzerland, a tech-savvy nation and long-standing financial hub, recently granted regulatory approval to Sygnum and SEBA, two new financial startups focused on digital assets. Similarly, Southeast Asia's own financial powerhouse, Singapore, has begun issuing digital banking licenses to both banking and non-banking entities. This makes it possible for online platforms that are not usually associated with banking, such as social media or e-commerce sites, to begin offering financial services to their users.
How do digital banks differ from traditional banks?
The main difference between traditional and digital banks is the lack of physical bank branches. Digital banks exist entirely online and all banking is done over the internet - including transfers, payments, and investments. ATM cards, issued in collaboration with Visa or Mastercard, are delivered via post and all customer support is done online or over the phone. While the older generation typically prefers to do their banking in-person, young Millennials have embraced the new world of online banking, with many having never set foot in a physical bank branch.
New technology designed specifically for the financial sector means digital banks can offer significant advantages over traditional banks - including lower fees, faster transfers, and often no minimum balance or deposit requirements. Due to the reduced overheads as a result of minimal staff and low real estate costs, digital banks are able to pass these savings on to their clients.
Do digital banks pose a threat to the banking establishment?
Early digital banking services tended to cater to small-scale, retail clients, meaning this new industry until now has not posed a serious threat to traditional 'big' banks. However, as the nascent digital banking sector has grown, some bigger players have begun developing professional banking solutions for corporate entities.
Now, large-scale professional organizations and high-net-worth individuals can receive the same level of service they would from their traditional bank, at a lower cost, and with several advantages. This is putting pressure on well-established banks to meet the increasing demands of modern, online-focused businesses.
Traditionally, corporate banks have relied on relationship managers to forge personal relationships with high-value clients - something that has been difficult for digital banks to replicate. In an attempt to offer this same level of personal service, some emerging digital banks like EQIBank offer a 24/7 concierge service to its corporate clients. Additionally, many of these new digital banks are headquartered in offshore nations that benefit from highly favorable taxation policies, making them considerably more attractive to corporate clients.
With many emerging digital banks like N26 and Revolut recently completing huge funding rounds, it's easy to see how this new sector could challenge the status quo. In addition, many digital banks are headed by ex-bankers from the traditional finance industry and complemented by some of the best minds in the tech world today. This marriage of finance and technology promises to revamp the global financial environment in ways never before seen. For traditional banks to survive, it is now more pertinent than ever that they embrace the fintech revolution.