Digital banking for 2019 students

If you're a student looking for your first bank account, you may have heard of challenger banks. Here's what they can offer to improve your stressful student life.

Last updated:

Revolut, Monzo, Starling… they’ve been around for a while and loads of young people are opening accounts with them.

Should you do the same? What’s so special about them? Our guide looks at how digital banks can boost your uni life.

Digital banking deals

Starling Starling
Award winner

Starling voted best British bank & current account

Revolut Revolut
Save £5!

Free card worth £5 from Revolut

Ends

N26 N26
New!

Get N26 the new bank you'll love to use

Monese Monese
Free card!

Download the Monese app and get your free card

Why should students choose digital banking?

Challengers are banks or banking apps that were born with the aim of “challenging” the big, traditional banks, such as Lloyds and Barclays, by offering better deals, bureaucracy-free accounts and better online banking services.

Challenger banks don’t usually offer dedicated student accounts, but their basic current account options come with a series of features that make quite a lot of sense for the typical student who doesn’t know much about banking and whose monthly budget is a bit stretched.

In general, young people seem to like digital banking. A lot, actually.

There’s a bunch of different reasons behind it, but mostly:

  • Accounts are fast to set up. Opening a bank account takes a few minutes and you’ll get the card within a few days.
  • It’s mobile-friendly. Digital banks come with an app that usually looks good, works well and does cool stuff. For example, most show you data about where and how you spend most of your money. Also, most apps give instant notifications when you use your card to help you keep track of what you spend.
  • You don’t need to actually talk to someone to open an account. Don’t shrug your shoulders, we know you like this. You can even set up your account while waiting for your Deliveroo to arrive with that Netflix crime documentary on in the background.
  • Free to join and low fees. Most challenger banks offer a free basic account and in most cases won’t charge you for basic banking services such as ATM withdrawals, bank transfers and card payments.
  • It can help you save money. When you’re a student, budgeting is an art form – how many gin and tonics can you afford if you still want to eat three decent meals a day? Digital banking apps often have features that can help you budget, by gathering data on your spending habits and regrouping them in clear, colourful graphs.
  • Young brands. For many young people, traditional banks are the banks of their parents. Challenger banks have been able to establish themselves as cool brands. That kind of feeling, although subconscious, often plays a part when you’re choosing a product.

What's in a name: challengers, challenger banks or digital banking apps?

These three terms are often used as synonyms and usually refer to the same group of companies. However, there are some distinctions to make:

  • Challengers. It’s quite a general word that refers to the idea that these companies are “challenging” traditional banks and their power in the market.
  • Challenger banks. Not all challengers and digital banking apps are entitled to call themselves a “bank”, only those with a full banking licence can, such as Monzo and Starling.
  • Digital banking (apps). Challenger banks are usually digital-only, but there are exceptions – Metro Bank is a challenger with a physical presence, for example. The term “digital banking apps” also encompasses budgeting apps such as Yolt or Money Dashboard, which don’t actually hold any funds, but use Open Banking to connect to your current account and help you manage your finances.

You can read more about what challenger banks are in our dedicated guide.

What do you get if you open an account with a challenger bank?

As we said, at the very least you should get a free account, a widely accepted card and a slick mobile app.

That’s all very nice and techy, but you’ll be wondering about the concrete rewards and advantages you can obtain with challenger banks. Traditional banks are sometimes better at treating customers with deals and discounts, but apart from easier and cheaper basic banking services, challenger banks also have some extra advantages, such as:

  • Overdrafts. Not all challengers offer overdraft facilities, but those that do allow you to apply for one from your banking app in a few seconds.
  • Free transactions abroad. Challengers are excellent for travellers and international students as many don’t charge you for using your card abroad and some even allow free ATM withdrawals outside the UK.
  • Extra rewards. They’re less common, but there’s some juicy stuff around if you search carefully. Starling, for example, gives you a 0.5% interest rate on your current account balance, while Curve card offers an introductory 1% cashback for 90 days on purchases from a pool of partners that include Sainsbury’s, Netflix and Spotify.

Starling

Starling Bank: award-winning banking on your mobile

  • No monthly fees or fees overseas from Starling Bank
  • Apply in minutes, direct from the app
  • Best British Bank 2019 award winner
  • Get instant notifications & insights on your spending habits
  • Earn interest on your real-time balance
Promoted

Opening a bank account as an international student in the UK

Many traditional banks only allow you to apply for a student account if you have at least three years of address history in the UK, so if you’re an international student, you’re locked out.

In that case, becoming the customer of a challenger bank can be a nice and tidy solution: you need to be a UK resident but you usually don’t need a proof of address to apply and you can also use your card abroad without any extra fee, which is handy if you’re planning to spend some time back home during the holidays.

Revolut (Standard)

Revolut card: Free delivery worth £5

  • Spend abroad with no fees
  • Great for international students
  • Simple to set up
  • Visualise your spending in real time
  • Trusted by 2 million users
Promoted

Traditional vs challenger banks

If you only look at perks and rewards, in some cases traditional banks beat challenger banks. With traditional banks, you can get discounts on cinema tickets and retailers, cashback options and railcards that make your train trips cheaper. It’s difficult for challengers to match that kind of offer.

Moreover, traditional banks usually offer larger overdrafts, in some cases interest-free.

Pros and cons of challenger banks for students

Pros

  • Easy and fast to set up
  • Slick mobile apps and instant notifications
  • Budgeting features that can help you save more
  • Free transactions abroad

Cons

  • No physical branches
  • Fewer perks and rewards
  • Smaller overdrafts

Compare digital banking apps

Updated September 16th, 2019
Name Product Fees and charges Delivery speed
Free
Between 3-5 working days
Everything you get from a current account, but with new features for mobile living. (E.g. Goals for saving, spending catgorisation, interest on your balances)
Free with finder.com, otherwise card delivery is £4.99
Up to 9 working days
App-based current account with loads of extra features. (e.g. Real time transactions, payment categorisation, save spare change, free international money transfers, buy cryptocurrency)
N26
Free
5-7 working days
App-based bank account that can be used on the go in any EU country. All about the ease of sending and saving money.
None
Between 3-5 business days
A multi-currency mobile banking app that aims to be ‘built around you’. Use it to open a fully functional current account instantly, straight from your phone, all supported by a feature-rich mobile app

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated September 16th, 2019
Name Product Foreign ATM withdrawals Foreign transactions fee Card cost Delivery speed
No ATM fees up to £300 a day.
No fees
Free
Between 3-5 working days
Everything you get from a current account, but with new features for mobile living. (E.g. Goals for saving, spending catgorisation, interest on your balances)
No ATM fees
No fees
Free with finder.com, otherwise card delivery is £4.99
Up to 9 working days
App-based current account with loads of extra features. (e.g. Real time transactions, payment categorisation, save spare change, free international money transfers, buy cryptocurrency)
N26
ATM fees differ depending on country
No fees
Free
5-7 working days
App-based bank account that can be used on the go in any EU country. All about the ease of sending and saving money.
Withdrawals of £200/$200/€200 or more – free
smaller withdrawals – a charge of £1.50 per withdrawal

No transaction fees (if you spend in one of the 18 wallet currencies)
Free
Between 3-5 working days in the UK, or within 10 days if you live outside the UK

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated September 16th, 2019
Name Product Fees and charges Interest Savings goals
N26
Free
None
n26 'Spaces' feature lets the user open sub-accounts to stash your money away
Free with finder.com, otherwise card delivery is £4.99
No interest
Set budgets in the app
Free
0.5% AER up to £2,000, 0.25% over £2,000 to £85,000
Create different spending goals and protect money from daily spending
None
No interest
Not a feature

Compare up to 4 providers

Updated September 16th, 2019
Name Product Direct debits UK ATMs Payments Freeze your card
N26
Yes
Free
Use MoneyBeam to transfer money instantly. Is partnered with Transferwise so can send money to 16 countries.
Yes: touch of a button in app
App-based bank account that can be used on the go in any EU country. All about the ease of sending and saving money.
Revolut currently only supports direct debits with the Euro IBAN account
Free up to £200 a month
Easy UK payments and can transfer money between 23 countries
Yes: touch of a button in app
App-based current account with loads of extra features. (e.g. Real time transactions, payment categorisation, save spare change, free international money transfers, buy cryptocurrency)
Yes - future Direct Debits shown as alerts
Free, limited to £300 a day
Pay via bank transfer or using PayPal or Google Nearby
Yes: touch of a button in app
Everything you get from a current account, but with new features for mobile living. (E.g. Goals for saving, spending catgorisation, interest on your balances)
Yes - can cancel with touch of a button too
£1 per withdrawal
Pay via bank transfer, easier to send to another Monese account.
Report lost/stolen in app to be sent replacement
A multi-currency mobile banking app that aims to be ‘built around you’. Use it to open a fully functional current account instantly, straight from your phone, all supported by a feature-rich mobile app

Compare up to 4 providers

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site