Best banks in the UK: a list of top picks in 2023

Gert Svaiko

Looking for a new bank account in the UK? Perhaps you’ve just moved here, and are looking for a way to manage your finances.

Opening a UK bank account will be one of your first tasks as a new arrival, but which one to choose?

Read on, as we’ve put together a list of top banks in the UK, the account types available and some helpful info on how the UK banking system works.

So, let’s get started.

Banking in the UK (an overview)

The banking system in the UK is made up of private and international banks, along with building societies. There are nearly 350 banks in the UK,¹ with a handful of large banks dominating the banking sector.

To open a bank account in the UK, you’ll usually need to provide your ID (such as a passport or driving licence) and proof of address. You may also have to complete further steps to prove your identity.

Current accounts with English banks tend to be free to open, with no monthly fees. However, you can get some packaged bank accounts which throw in extra services or discounts in exchange for a monthly charge.

It’s usually free to use your bank’s ATM, but not if you use another operator’s ATM - or if you use your card abroad. Most major banks offer online banking, along with mobile banking.

And like banks in other countries, UK banks tend to charge high fees for international transfers outside of Europe.

To avoid these expensive fees, consider using an alternative such as the Wise account. It’s ideal for international transactions, and could save you a bundle.

Learn more about the Wise account

Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.

Top 10 best banks in the UK

Now, let’s take a look at some of your options when it comes to choosing a bank in the UK. Here are some of the biggest and most popular UK banks serving retail customers:

Bank nameOperational HQ
HSBCBirmingham
Lloyds BankLondon
NatWestLondon
BarclaysLondon
Royal Bank of ScotlandEdinburgh
NationwideSwindon
HalifaxHalifax
Santander UKLondon
First DirectLeeds
Metro BankLondon

HSBC

One of the ‘big four’ banks in the UK, HSBC has an extensive branch network throughout the whole country.

Another of its advantages is that it operates in multiple countries around the world. So if you bank with HSBC in your home country, they may be able to help you set up an account in the UK before you get here.

HSBC offers current, savings and foreign currency accounts, along with credit cards, mortgages and insurance products. For everyday banking, there’s a choice of a Basic Bank Account, or the Advance Account which comes with extra features.

Lloyds Bank

With roots dating back to 1765, Lloyds Bank is another of the UK’s ‘big four’ banks. It offers current accounts including its Classic and Club Lloyds accounts, plus all kinds of premium and specialist accounts.

For example, you can choose the Silver account to get family travel insurance and breakdown cover thrown in, or a Platinum account which also includes mobile phone insurance. Both of these accounts come with a monthly fee

For young people, there’s also aSmart Start savings account and a dedicated Student Account.

NatWest

With a sizable network of branches and ATMs across the UK, NatWest is another of the country’s biggest and most popular banks. It serves both businesses and personal customers, as well as offering private banking and wealth management services.

For everyday banking, you can choose from a range of current and savings accounts. This includes the free NatWest Select Account, and the NatWest Reward Account - this gives you rewards on spending and payments, in exchange for a monthly fee.

There’s a dedicated Student account, and options for children and teens too.

Barclays

The last of the UK’s ‘big four’, Barclays is a multinational universal bank with a history dating back to 1690 - making it even older than Lloyds Bank.

Personal banking customers can choose from a range of current and savings accounts, borrowing options, credit cards, investment and insurance products.

Among the most popular current accounts at Barclays are the standard Barclays Bank Account and Premier Current Account. For those at university, there’s the Student Additions Account.

Royal Bank of Scotland

While headquartered in Edinburgh, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is one of the major banks in the UK.

Part of the NatWest Group, RBS offers a similar selection of current accounts as its parent. This includes the RBS Select Account and RBS Reward Account, along with a basic Foundation Account.

There are also a range of perk-packed Premier accounts, student, teen and child accounts available.

Nationwide

Nationwide is a building society, rather than a bank. This means it’s owned and run for the benefit of its members. In fact, Nationwide is the world’s largest building society.

It offers the same kinds of services as a bank though, including current accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, loans, mortgages and more. For everyday banking, there’s the FlexPlus, FlexDirect and FlexAccount to choose from.

For young people, there’s the FlexOne account for 11 to 17-year-olds, along with the FlexStudent account.

Halifax

Based in Yorkshire, Halifax is a former building society and is part of the Lloyds Banking Group. It offers everything from current and savings accounts to loans, credit cards and home insurance.

It has a standard Current Account, along with a Reward Current Account and Ultimate Reward Current Account. The latter offers lots of extras, including travel insurance, breakdown cover, home emergency cover and mobile phone insurance - all for a monthly fee

There’s also a dedicated Student Current Account, and Money Smart Account for 11 to 15-year-olds.

Santander UK

One of the many international banks operating in England, the Spain-based Santander is a popular choice for everyday banking services.

Its wide range of accounts includes the 1|2|3 Current Account and Santander Edge Current Account. There’s also a 1|2|3 Student Current Account.

Santander UK also offers credit cards, insurance, mortgages, savings and investments.

First Direct

Owned by HSBC, First Direct doesn’t have any physical branches - it’s a phone and online-based bank. However, it’s renowned for providing excellent customer service.⁴

For everyday banking, there’s just one Current Account available, but this also comes with access to a regular saver account.

First Direct can also help with savings, investments, loans, cards and mortgages.

Metro Bank

Last on our list is Metro Bank, one of the newest high street banks to open in the UK - although it’s been around for 12+ years.

Metro Bank offers accounts, savings, borrowing, mortgages and insurance products. To manage your money day-to-day, you can choose from a Current Account, Cash Account and Foreign Currency Account.

Top online bank accounts in the UK

Along with traditional banks, the UK also has a number of digital banks to choose from. This includes:

  • Revolut. The app-based Revolut offers a choice of monthly plans, including a free Standard plan. All include a debit card and basic banking services, with more perks and features added the more you pay for your monthly plan.
  • Starling Bank. A fully authorised UK digital bank offering a fee-free current account, with everything managed through the Starling app.
  • Monzo. Another app-based UK bank, Monzo offers an online-account with no fees for day-to-day banking services.

Manage your money internationally? Check out the Wise account

If you want to send money internationally, or use your debit card when you travel, you could find it expensive with an English bank.

The good news is that there’s a money-saving alternative available. Open a Wise account, and you can send money worldwide for low fees and fair exchange rates.

You can even get an international debit card for spending abroad and in the UK. It automatically converts your money to the local currency at the mid-market exchange rate, whenever you spend.

This makes it ideal for travellers, expats, overseas students and anyone else living an international life.

Join Wise today

Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.


Sources used:

  1. Expatica - Guide to banking in the UK
  2. Lloyds Bank - Current Accounts
  3. Halifax - Current Accounts
  4. First Direct - Home

Sources last checked on date: 25-Apr-2023


Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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