From Netflix for TV to Skype and WhatsApp for communication, there aren't many elements of our daily lives that haven't been conquered by online-only companies.
Until recently, however, banking has almost exclusively been the preserve of businesses that have a bricks-and-mortar presence. But could that all be about to change?
Unlike traditional banks, virtual banks have no physical branches – all transactions are done online. And like virtual businesses in other industries before them, virtual banks are shaking up the banking sphere by doing business differently.
Regardless of whether they're traditional or virtual, all banks are still bound by the same regulations and codes of conduct, offering consumers guarantees over the safety of the financial services they use. However, virtual banks offer a number of clear benefits over their high-street counterparts.
From a practical perspective, one advantage that virtual banks have compared to their traditional competitors is lower overheads – a virtual bank costs less to run without the need to fit out, maintain and manage branches, as well as saving money when signing up new customers. That can translate into one of virtual banking's biggest advantages for customers: lower prices for the services they provide and better interest rates.
Most people will already be familiar with the process of handling transactions and other banking business online or through an app. Paying bills, sending money internationally, and opening new accounts are all standard online services for most banks, whether bricks and mortar or entirely online.
However, due to their history of physical branch opening hours, traditional banks typically don't run their telephone or online chat support 24 hours a day. Virtual banks have no such legacy. And, as they know their customers will be conducting their banking at all hours of the day or night, they typically have 24/7 support. That means whether you have a query in Qatar at 3am, or a concern in Colchester at midday, virtual banks will have someone available to support you.
That's not the only way virtual banks are moving ahead of their traditional counterparts. Built on online-only infrastructure and with none of the legacy technologies or structures of older, bricks-and-mortar banks, virtual banks are finding it easier to innovate, responding to changes in customer dynamics, banking habits, technology use, or even integrating with other popular online services.
While there's nothing stopping older banks introducing the same features, virtual banks tend to have a more start-up culture, meaning they are both more agile and more willing to respond to customers' changing needs with new features and services. For example, functionality like budgeting tools are fairly common with virtual banks, but less so for bricks-and-mortar counterparts.
Because of that, many customers find that managing their accounts is easier with virtual banks. There are no visits to branches and no queues to do routine account activities, such as changing the address on an account, because the virtual banks have evolved without a tradition of branch visits.
Instead, customers get a wealth of data and simple, efficient services that can improve how they go about financial planning.