RBS digital sub-brand:
will it be innovation or imitation?

News that Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is working on a project to create a digital sub-brand comes as little surprise, writes Douglas Blakey

According to a Sky News report, RBS’ digital sub-brand strategy is being led by its former chief operating officer, Mark Bailie.

The mainstream news media suggest that RBS is somehow spooked by the initial success of start-ups such as Monzo and Starling –that is a rather simplistic observation.

For starters, the challenger banking segment of the market is becoming distinctly crowded and amounts to a great deal more than just Monzo and Starling.

RBS will also be viewing with interest the early success enjoyed by digital sub-brands of established banks in markets outside the UK.

It will also be conscious of the oft-repeated advice given to digital banking start-ups: ‘don’t imitate, innovate.’

There are some major success stories among the incumbent banks to have set up digital sub-brands, as well as one or two cautionary tales, that success is in no way guaranteed.

Winners -
leading examples include:

  • DBS digibank - Digibank is India’s first paperless, signatureless, branchless bank. Customers can open a digibank e-wallet in 90 seconds and it has been a huge initial success. Over 1 million customers signed up to digibank within a year of it being established in 2016. Customer numbers have since hit 2 million. In August last year, DBS rolled out digibank in Indonesia – again offering a paperless and signatureless account opening experience and a suite of innovative technology – from biometrics to artificial intelligence.
  • Liv from Emirates NBD - Liv. Launched as a new banking entity powered by Emirates NBD. The majority of liv banking is done via the liv. app. and this includes setting up the bank account as well. Set up in early 2017 as the first digital banking proposition in the region targeting young adults,. Liv has enjoyed huge initial success and forms a core part of Emirates NBD’s major investment in digital innovation and multichannel transformation
  • Hello Bank (from BNP Paribas Fortis)Hello bank!  is the mobile sub-brand of BNP Paribas Fortis, initially launched in Belgium and Germany in 2013.By last year, Hello had opened more than 2.5 million customer accounts across France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic.
  • EQ Bank (part of Equitable Bank Canada) - Canada’s latest challenger banking digital brand ended fiscal 2017, its second year of operation with deposits of C$1.6bn, up 53% on the year.
  • Pepper from Bank LeumiPepper launched to great fanfare and attracted admiring glances far from its Israel base. Pepper claims to offer a bank account for everything – and it is a fair claim. The Pepper proposition includes a credit card and even a chequebook, smart savings, immediate loans, daily personal insights – all via the mobile channel.
  • Timo (VP Bank, Vietnam) - Timo stands for Time + Money and claims to be Vietnam’s first truly digital bank; Timo is winning customers attracted by its fee-free ATM withdrawals and free P2P remittances to anyone in Vietnam, at the same time as offering 1% on deposits.
  • Jenius from BTPN (Indonesia) - Jenius is the digital sub-brand of Indonesia’s Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional (BTPN). Jenius is targeting growth from the country’s large underbanked segment combined with growing smartphone penetration. Boosted by biometric onboarding and competitive product pricing, Jenius has enjoyed strong initial customer numbers growth, overachieving on BTPN’s original app download goals.
  • B Bank (from Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank) - Launched in 2016, B was rolled out to signal the importance of innovation in Clydesdale’s growth strategy, and forms part of its wider omni-channel strategy across the business using digitisation to deliver better, sustainable services for customers.At the time of the launch, Clydesdale said that B would represent “a challenge to other banks..., with functions to give customers control over their money, such as setting up multiple savings pots, tagging and tracking specific elements of spending, to automatically sweep cash between current and savings accounts, and offset savings balances against a mortgage.”

And soon to come:

RBS is not along among the existing UK banks in planning a digital sub-brand. Challenger brand Virgin Money is also getting in on the act.

  • Virgin Money - Virgin Money plans to create a digital bank “underpinned by next-generation technology and architecture, offering customers a Universal Account that can be personalised to create a unique proposition tailored to individual needs."Virgin Money said in February that it expects to begin testing its new digital bank in the second half of this year.
  • EQ Bank (part of Equitable Bank Canada)


Canada’s latest challenger banking digital brand ended fiscal 2017, its second year of operation with deposits of C$1.6bn, up 53% on the year.

From this perspective, yes – deploying and maintaining ATMs must be done in a strategic manner. This being said, with the rapidly changing consumer expectations, businesses and banks must keep in mind that placing a strain on communities that already struggle to access cash might backfire.

And a cautionary tale or two

  • AXA Banque's mobile sub-brand SOON was created in 2013. SOON was set up to “integrate the latest technological innovations in the banking world.”

    In three years, SOON attracted only around 30,000 customers. The brand was dropped quietly in 2016 by its parent Axa Banque.

  • Touch Bank (Hungary’s OTP Bank)Touch Bank kicked off in Russia in 2015. It has tried to emulate the huge success of the country’s leading digital bank, Tinkoff Bank. While Tinkoff goes from strength to strength Touch Bank remains very much in its shadow and very much loss-making – in direct contrast to Tinkoff.

Douglas Blakey

Editor, Retail Banker International