Launched as a direct rival to fintech current account challengers like Monzo, Starling and Revolut, the new digital banking solution from Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group bears a striking resemblance to the leader of that pack: Monzo.

The Tom Blomfield-founded challenger bank has certainly written the playbook when it comes to launching new banks – even if it hasn't landed on a profitable business model yet.

© RBS
© RBS

Of course imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and new Bó customers will receive a brightly coloured contactless debit card (yellow for Bó, coral pink for Monzo) and a simple mobile app which organises transactions with the aim of helping customers to save money, including setting spending budgets and a piggy bank for savings, but without accruing interest. The benefits around overseas usage and the ability to lock a card before cancelling it are all also straight out of a well-worn fintech playbook.

Onboarding is also smooth and simple, with customers able to get up and running in 10 minutes or so, but you do have to take a selfie with your tongue out, so maybe don't do it in the office.

"I think it's a soulless challenger bank," David Brear, group CEO of digital banking consultancy 11:FS said.

"When founders like [Monzo CEO] Tom Blomfield or [Starling CEO] Anne Boden are starting challengers for deep societal meaning and purpose, for RBS to have spent so much and achieve so little in such a long period of time... it makes me worry that this is merely the whim of a senior person in a bank and a number of consultancies, rather than something that has any long-term relevance to UK customers or the market."

RBS has been developing Bó for at least 18 months now, under the leadership of former RBS chief operating officer Mark Bailie and operating on the licence of the group's retail bank Natwest.

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That team got an infusion of talent earlier this year too, when the startup Loot – which had built a digital current account product aimed at students – went bust. This allowed RBS to swoop in and hire around a dozen staff members from the company, including former CEO Ollie Purdue as chief product officer for Bó, after investing £3 million in the startup previously.

Our take

Despite the deep pockets of the RBS group and the solid footing of the Natwest brand, Bó is starting from a platform that is years behind the likes of Monzo and Starling in terms of customer experience, with no functionality to make salary deposits or arrange an overdraft.

At this point Bó really is a money management app like Loot, more than a full service digital current account, and it doesn't have any AI smarts to push it above rival money management apps, just the backing of a trusted brand.

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Of course RBS could be using Bó as a kind of feature incubator for its core brand's own banking apps, as rival HSBC did with its defunct Connected Money app, or this could be the first iteration of something much more exciting. We will have to wait and see.

It is striking considering the length of time and amount of resource that has been spent on building Bó just how unoriginal the proposition is. Of course RBS can use its brands and marketing might to push Bó on customers, but where fintechs like Monzo and Starling saw smart money management as a stepping stone to become a new kind of bank, RBS has built one as means to an end.