Meet the banking startup that wants to go nuclear on the competition

Atom's Bank

One after the other, entire verticals are being hit by digital transformation tsunamis. From transportation to food, no industry seems to be immune.

Scores of businesses are being forced to pivot, rebuilt or re-engineer themselves to respond to the arrival of new, aggressive, legacy-free actors and the profound changes in how customers interact and transact in their everyday life.

Atom bank is one of these actors, part of a tiny faction of so-called Challenger banks that want to, well, challenge the set order and the existing quasi-clique of financial, high street banking institutions.

Officially launched in April 2016, it is the only app-based bank in the UK and has Anthony Thomson as chairman, Thomson co-founded Metro Bank in 2010, the first new bank to open in the UK for more than a century.

In the hindsight, Metro may well have been a springboard for Atom, which is a far more radical take on banking as we know it, without what Atom calls "baggage of the past". The company currently offers saving accounts with secured business loans, current accounts, credit cards and even residential mortgages planned for 2016.

More than 26,000 people have registered their interest in Atom's services with a fifth of them having downloaded the app on their devices. We caught up with Stewart Bromley, the acting Chief Operating Officer to find out about the philosophy behind the brand and what it has in store when it comes to technology.

Techradar Pro: You just launched your app - and your banking service, what has been the initial feedback?

Stewart Bromley: We have significantly more positive feedback in the social channels than negative, and we are very pleased in how it has been received. We know our design is completely different to existing banks, and hence it wouldn't be for everyone. Further, most customers have only got access to the Play-zone functionality thus far, and will not have experienced the broader App features. Of course, all feedback is welcome, and we have the agility to learn from this, and to apply implements in each release.

TRP: What about desktop users and Android/Windows phone ones?

SB: Android is due in May. Windows [will come] later this year. The Windows release will also allow people using desktop Windows 8.1 or above to use our App as well.

TRP: Do you consider Atom Bank to be a bank or a technology company?

SB: We are a bank, who are leveraging technology to deliver the best customer experience possible.

TRP: Atom's full on biometric approach is catching up. But what happens when a hacker gets hold of your biometric details from a third party (as it was the case recently in Philippines), credentials that you fundamentally can't change?

SB: A person's profile is linked to their specific device. As such, getting hold of someones identity is useless, unless you also get hold of their specific device.

TRP: With that in mind, do you think that the password is finally dead?

SB: No, not entirely. We believe biometrics will be the main authentication method moving forward, however passwords still have a place, and Atom still off this form of access. Passwords are materially different, as it is something you know, rather than one of your biometrics, and hence behaves as another security factor.

TRP: What lies ahead for Atombank technology-wise? Interest on Bitcoin, Blockchain? AI, VR, AR, Avatars, NFC payments?

SB: All of the above. We are creating a platform, and will in due course publish our APIs. This is to allow other people to consume our services, and for us to leverage other third party tech/solutions. Having a platform that enables pace/integration is the key to our ability to deliver the best customer experience.

TRP: How much of your technology/feature set/services are outsourced? Does that make you more agile or more fragile?

SB: We always have an eye on technology, and are looking to leverage off-the-shelf solutions at pace. Our app itself, is developed fully in-house. We believe this gives us the best in terms of agility, but also the means to deliver one unified customer experience.

TRP: Your app uses video game technology. Are you planning to offer in-app gaming sessions?

SB: We are primarily using the technology to give us the ability to animate and to sue 3D features. This way you can make the App much more engaging, and the ability to deliver much more usable functionality in such a small space. With 2D, text based Apps, you have to wade through menus after menus to get the piece of information you need, whereas with Atom, we will bring animated, contextual information to the customer.

TRP: Would you say that Atom Bank is the Uber of banking? Crowdsourcing as many traditional features as possible and focusing only on your app?

SB: I think Atom can be compared to Uber in terms of disruption and challenging the norm. We will also crowdsource features where appropriate. But the two use cases are very different, and hence I'm not sure how much more you can compare. Getting from A to B is very different to redefining the everyday relationship people have with their money.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.