Challenger bank licenses 'under intense PRA scrutiny'

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) only approved four applications for banking licences in the last year, down from 14 in the previous year, while the number of applications (11) has remained virtually unchanged from last year (10).

According to regulatory consultancy fscom, the fall in approvals suggests that the PRA is taking longer to approve new applicants for banking licences than in the past, with many of the recent wave of applicants for banking licences coming from digital-only challengers and FinTechs.

The figures come in the wake of a letter from the PRA to chief executives of challenger banks in mid-June, which outlined the regulator’s concerns about their risk management.

While the PRA is still keen to approve new entrants to the sector, fscom stated there are three key factors that all applicants for banking licences must address to give themselves the best chance of getting approval.

They must ensure boards have sufficient experience in banking - through at least one economic cycle - as many are made up of members from a tech background.

James Borley, director at fscom, commented: “The regulator is keen to see that the leadership team at a new bank has experience of lending through at least one economic cycle, and can manage a loan book in a period with potential for higher defaults – there is also a need for individuals with experience ensuring compliance in what is a very tightly-regulated industry.”

Separate analysis from Fitch Ratings this week also suggested that several digital challengers have grown faster than the market, during relatively benign credit conditions in recent years, with performance not yet tested in a downturn - with the warning that such FinTechs could be in for a shock if the economy hits a downturn.

Challenger banks must also prove their business model to the regulator, and back it with data.

Borley gave the example that it has been proven to be quite tough to get consumers to switch their main current accounts to a challenger bank. “How will the bank deal with this? The regulator will be keen to see an answer that is backed by data.”

Finally, FinTechs must make sure they have the investment needed to meet capital requirements, in order to protect potential customers.

Borley concluded: “The PRA operates with a presumption towards increasing competition in the banking sector, and is keen to see new banks enter the market.

“Potential applicants should be aware that none of the regulator’s challenges are insurmountable – the right preparation can ensure the process runs smoothly.”

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