Are digital banking initiatives driving current account switching?

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Figures from the Current Account Switch Service show that digital-only banks are amongst the winners of recent current account switches, but established banks HSBC and Nationwide are the big winners of the summer. We ask: why?

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The latest figures from the Current Account Switch Service, which helps UK banking customers switch their account for a better deal, shows that digital-only banks, and banks making vocal efforts to digitally transform, have been the big winners over the summer period.

The data is for the period 1 July 2018 to 30 September 2018 and the two banks to gain the most net customers via the switching service are Nationwide and HSBC, with 34,577 and 25,605 net gains respectively.

This is also the first data set to show figures for digital-only challenger banks Monzo and Starling, who each net gained 2,702 and 1,737 respectively.

The biggest loser for the same period was TSB, which has suffered a well-publicised IT meltdown when it attempted to migrate its core banking platform back in April. The bank net lost -16,641 in the period.

Natwest, Ulster Bank and RBS also had IT problems in September, frustrating customers. Those banks net lost 12,053, 769 and 12,362 respectively, putting the two UK banks amongst the worst performers for the period.

The interesting part here is that HSBC has been one of the most forward of the UK banks when it comes to open banking, releasing a new standalone banking app called Connected Money to allow customers to see all of their accounts in one place. Barclays followed suit through its core mobile banking app in September. It net lost 4,420 in the same period, for the record.

Nationwide has also recently pledged to invest an additional £1.3 billion in technology over the next five years. This has been earmarked to "simplify its technology estate and build new technology platforms to enable growth and diversification, and drive forward digital, data and analytic strategies.

"At the same time, we will continue to transform member experience on the high street through investment in branches and other channels. Through this programme, the Society will make the most of the opportunities ahead, growing membership and revenue in existing and new propositions, further enhancing service, simplifying operations and building new skills for the future."

So are digital banking initiatives and the ideas underpinning open banking starting to get through to consumers and driving them to switch to more innovative providers?

It would certainly be a push to suggest that there is a clear link between those two statements, but a spokesperson for the Current Account Switch Service did say that "when it comes to the new digital banks, what was once a niche market has become a real alternative to traditional providers".

In reality it looks like old fashioned marketing, and free incentives, are really driving the switches.

"According to our research, innovation, awareness through promotional activity, and incentives are the biggest drivers when it comes to moving between current account providers," the spokesperson continued.

"That's evidenced by the numbers moving to HSBC and Nationwide at the time the two were running significant advertising campaigns promoting financial rewards or free gifts for switchers."

Read next: What is open banking? What does it mean for banks, fintech startups & consumers?

In the foreword to a recent report into consumer switching, Jo Kendrick, Chair of the Current Account Switch Service points towards the open banking initiatives as a good start for driving switching, but that their work is certainly far from done.

"In this digital age, we expect convenient and consumer-focused experiences which help us to access and choose a range of online services with one or two clicks of a mouse: be it shopping, travel or eating out," she writes. "The Competition and Market Authority's (CMA) package of reforms, including open banking initiatives, could help to generate similar seamless experiences in financial services, so providing opportunities for consumers to make more of their money.

"Delivering the technology of the CMA's package of reforms is a significant task in itself. However, getting consumers to engage with and use the new financial products and services that the technology enables will be just as challenging."

So digital initiatives may not be driving people to switch their current accounts in their droves yet, but the rise of the digitally minded bank continues, and these figures show they are at least doing something right. Whether the likes of HSBC and Nationwide's digital policies are also resonating with consumers is harder to correlate, but they certainly won't be changing paths any time soon.

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