Endless queues, limited opening times, unnecessary paperwork and additional charges when spending money abroad – the traditional banking system was in dire need of a makeover. Approaching 2020, going mobile has become an increasingly popular method to manage finances, and well-timed challenger banks have changed the face of banking, making it more accessible, convenient and up-to-date. Having remained unchallenged up until now, the high street banks have been ousted from their comfort zone by tech-savvy start-ups, with quarterly downloads of the top digital banking apps increasing 209% over the past six quarters. Introducing the key vendors in town – N26 and Curve – where suitability depends on your travelling, business and spending needs. N26 is Europe’s first fully mobile bank, giving consumers control of their financial life on their phone.

Thanks to the slick user interface, absence of fees and ease of opening an account, they have raised a whopping $670m and boast 4.5m users worldwide. Founded in 2013 by Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal – experienced business and finance experts from Vienna, key features include fast, paperwork-free application, instant payment notifications, free ATM withdrawals, spending categories and automatic analysis, early salary payments and sub-accounts to use as savings pots. N26 describe their mission as “reimagining the retail banking experience for today’s mobile lifestyle”, and it is a business banking service aimed primarily at freelancers and small and medium- sized companies.

It has grown rapidly in recent years to include customers across 25 European markets and the US, where it launched last July. The German unicorn bank is the only European challenger to have fully integrated into the US so far, and is currently leading the way, beating its European peers by download-figures. The fact that N26 operates with a full German banking license puts it ahead of many of the other platforms in terms of deposit safety, and another reason why banks like N26 are attractive is because of its 24-hour access and low cost of doing business. Geared at people who have modest needs when it comes to financial services, N26 offers commonly used financial facilities at reduced prices.

However, there is no multicurrency’s account and the IBAN will be German which may cause problems for certain corporations. Curve aims to provide “one place to spend, send, see and save money,” and a Curve card lets users connect existing debit and credit cards to it. Unlike its rivals, Curve acts as a mobile accountant, and its USP is managing various cards and helping users keep track of their money. The bank allows its users with Android-operating devices to shop with Google Pay, following on the heels of Curve's integration with Samsung Pay. After registering their Curve card with the Samsung Pay app, users can connect any of their other Mastercard and Visa debit or credit cards. Support for Apple Pay is also currently in the works. Curve said that the launch was a key part of its roadmap as it gears up to scale “throughout Europe and into the US in 2020”.

However, it is not protected by section 75 of Consumer Credit Act, which may act as a deterrent to potential users. Last year’s ICC Global Survey of 251 banks across 91 countries revealed that 49% of those surveyed were at the development stage of digitising processes in trade finance, while 12% said they were at a mature level of digitisation. Going into 2020 we will only see these percentages rise, and a combination of a country's confidence in fintech, regulatory backing for open banking and the growing number of customers trading in the traditional bank for more modern practices, mean  investors are betting big that digital disruption in this sector will continue. Banks used to be built to last. Today, they need to be built to change.