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Mark Mullen

Co-founder and CEO, Atom bank

Fintech and a disruptive market strategy allow smaller banks to challenge the banking giants and deliver better rates for customers.

Does a bank with no personal current accounts make sense? Yes – and it even means customers benefit, says Mark Mullen, co-founder and CEO of Atom bank.

Atom already broke the mould by being the UK’s first app-based bank, but while it offers savings accounts, business loans and mortgages, it offers no current accounts. Why?

“Customers dislike paying for current accounts, but they are expensive to provide, so banks recoup the cost from higher interest rates on borrowing or poor savings rates. So customers end up paying for them either way. When something appears to be free you know someone, likely you, is paying for it,” says Mullen. “The cost saving means we can afford to pay better interest on savings accounts.”

Mullen adds: “There’s no law that says you have to restrict your banking to one bank – you can have an account with us and a current account elsewhere.”

Disrupting the lending market

The company is focused on targeting parts of the market ignored by other fintechs. “Others are competing on fees, but only 13% of the UK banks’ total 2020 revenues of £45 billion came from current account and credit card fees, which is less than £6 billion,” says Mullen.

Who says we cannot compete with the old Goliaths of the banking world? Don’t forget it was David that killed Goliath in the end.

The big five banks and Nationwide dominate the lending market, but they have legacy technology that is hard to change, says Mullen. “Our modern tech means we can afford to lend at better rates than theirs. Customers want a bank that pays the best rates on savings and charges as little as possible for loans. We pay 50 times the rate on instant access savings offered by HSBC.”

Mortgage lending is the single most profitable part of the loans market, but while some banks are leaving it, Atom are getting in. It has lent nearly £3 billion in mortgages since its launch in 2014, with almost no defaults.

Staying ahead

Couldn’t the big banks catch up? “It’s easy to create an app, but the back-office spaghetti that makes them work well is expensive and complex,” Mullen says.

“Fintech is designed to destroy the old universal banking model. Who says we cannot compete with the old Goliaths of the banking world? Don’t forget it was David that killed Goliath in the end.”

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