The Great British Mobile Banking Review 2017

By Oliver Smith 30 March 2017

It's our third annual mobile banking review, and getting the right app has never been more important.

When’s the last time you went to the bank? Mobile banking is the future – and it’s time to get on board.

For the past two years The Memo has searched far and wide to find Britain’s best mobile banking apps. Along the way we’ve seen the good, the bad and sometimes the downright ugly.

This year we have again explored the 10 leading mobile banking apps to find the best of the best (sorry HSBC, Santander, et al), and we’ve worked with Mapa, the mobile banking research experts, to unpick the latest trends.

Last year Barclays took the Great British Mobile Banking Review crown, with its smart customer service giving one-tap access to an operator who already knows your name. No more painful security questions for Barclays customers.

Our 2016 review looked at smartwatch banking apps and wondered  “is the smartwatch the next big thing for mobile banking?”

12 months on and oh, how times have changed.

RIP Watch and Tablet

Banking executives, along with much of the media, were giddy with excitement at the prospect of watches and tablets last year.

The Apple Watch promised a new way of banking, which started on your wrist, while the tablet was the smartphone for your home.

Today in 2017 it’s obvious that that future is not coming to pass.

NatWest, RBS and Barclays may have excitedly rushed out the gate with Apple Watch apps last year… but today they’ve all been left to stagnate, with no new features since they launched.

Today it’s clear that smartwatches aren’t the future of computing, let alone banking.

Tablet apps have similarly been left out in the cold, with few or no updates over the last 12 months.

“Over the course of 2016, things went quiet on the development front for both these channels,” Jess Morley, Mapa’s research manager told The Memo.

“As of January 2017, just a handful of providers had a separate tablet app and more than 50% of those that had existed were no longer distinguishable from the standard mobile app.”

The truth is that the smartphone’s role as the central device in our lives – a decade after Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone – continues to grow.

Rise of the challengers

Last year we noted that challenger banks would “undoubtedly feature heavily in our 2017 Great British Mobile Banking Review”, and today that’s entirely true.

Over the last 12 months Monzo, Atom Bank and Starling have exploded onto the scene.

Earlier this week Monzo CEO Tom Blomfield told The Memo there are now 140,000 card-carrying Monzo customers – and the bank hasn’t even properly launched yet.

Read more: The startup threat big banks still “don’t get”

These challengers have brought with them a host of innovative new features like analytics which tell you how much money you’ve been spending, and card management so you can freeze your bank card with the tap of a button on your smartphone.

These features haven’t gone unnoticed by the big banks.

Barclays launched its own card management features in December, mimicking Monzo’s but going further with the ability to order a customised bank card from your phone and quickly set or change spending limits on a card.

Big night on the town? Maybe set a £50 withdrawal limit, just to be safe.

Or there’s Nationwide that launched ‘savings goals’ to track your budgeting progress, along with a host of other new features (more on them in a moment).

Pioneered by challengers, features like card management and spending analytics are a crucial tool in helping people to go mobile-first.

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Comeback king

Nationwide isn’t a name you’ll read often on the pages of this fine publication, nor is it a name you might associate with financial technology.

But over the last 12 months Nationwide has quietly, diligently, done something impressive.

You can search through your transactions with Google-like queries, check your ‘Quick Balance’ without logging in, and set savings goals.

“The new Nationwide app makes excellent use of visuals, and presents information in simple bite-size chunks” says Mapa’s Jess Morley.

“This is the type of interface commonly used by challenger banks, with Monzo being a stand-out, but very rarely by other incumbents.”

That’s why this year we’ve named Nationwide the comeback king, the most improved mobile banking app.

But it’s not the best.

Holding on to the crown

In 2016, we gave Barclays the Great British Mobile Banking Review crown, and over the past year the bank has continued to earn that title.

Along with its advanced card management, in two other key ways Barclays hasn’t rested on its laurels when it comes to mobile banking.

Last year the company’s ‘Direct Call’ feature left us impressed, today that’s been expanded to include live video chat so now you can see an adviser who’ll walk you through anything you need.

International money transfers is a phrase that inspires concern, if not fear, in the minds of most people.

Bizarre terms like IBAN are enough to make most people think twice about sending money abroad, fearful that they’ll send money to the wrong person or place.

Barclays Mobile Banking now automatically pulls the country and bank address from the IBAN number you enter, giving you certainty that you’re sending money to the right place.

This isn’t just a huge step for mobile banking, it’s a great improvement for banking full stop.

Barclays is striving ahead on its mobile banking mission, with an app that continues to ride head-and-shoulders above the rest in 2017.

That’s why Barclays Mobile Banking is once again the winner of The Great British Mobile Banking Review.

Bank Create new recipient Touch ID support Card management Budgeting tools
Lloyds, Halifax and the Bank of Scotland YES YES NO NO
Nationwide NO YES NO YES
Santander YES NO NO NO

Bold = new feature since 2015.

Our take

Over the past three years much has changed. Features like creating new payees from your smartphone and Touch ID are essential for building a mobile banking app.

The next leap we hope traditional banks make is to add the ability to open new current accounts directly from your smartphone – a feature being pioneered by the likes of Starling, but remains absent from every major banking app.

In 2018 our review will include at least one new mobile-only current account, a development that will hopefully push this industry forward and lead even the most forward-thinking banks to up their game.

The dream of mobile banking is that one day your smartphone will replace every feature that telephone banking, internet banking and indeed your bank branch currently offers.

We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been.

The Great British Banking Review 2017 was independently created by The Memo, in collaboration with Mapa Research.