These banks, exclusively on the Internet, arrived on the French market about fifteen years ago. But do they still have a future? The question may arise since ING Direct, one of the largest, recently announced that it was withdrawing from the French market.

ING’s departure was a thunderclap. ING was the pioneer in France of branchless banks. She arrived in 2000 and she immediately struck a blow by offering a savings account, then a current account at no cost. In 20 years, it has managed to attract a million customers, which made it one of the biggest players online, behind Boursorama.

But now, she stopped her activity because she couldn’t be profitable. It’s because the French market is hypercompetitive. You have a dozen online banks competing with payment cards and free banking services to attract consumers. The observation is clear: almost none is profitable today.

But then how do they survive and what is their goal?

As Victor Tassel writes in his article for The Parisian, these banks are in fact pilot fish for other banks. Because they are all backed by well-known banking institutions. Behind Boursorama, you have Société Générale. For Fortuneo, it's Crédit Mutuel. Crédit Agricole launched BforBank when BNP created HelloBank!

These online banks are therefore testing new products, new functionalities, which traditional banks can then use for their digital activities. They also make it possible to attract customers, often young people who do not see the point of setting foot in an agency to manage their money. Their leeway is low, they manage to get paid on specific banking products, such as interest on loans, for example. But that does not compensate for the heavy expenses, especially in marketing and advertising campaigns.

In short, as long as the parent companies absorb the losses, the future of online banks is assured. But all the experts in the sector say it, the day when they will no longer need it, the question of the merger, or even the closure of certain online banks, will inevitably arise.

Especially as they face new competition. There are now on the market neobanks and fintechs...

Just as 20 years ago they shook up the banking market, today they have become almost commonplace with the emergence of even more agile startups. We are talking about Compte Nickel, which allows you to open a bank account in a tobacco shop. From Lydia, which allows you to make transfers in the blink of an eye, or from PixPay, which offers a payment card for teenagers. These are not banks that offer everything to everyone, but companies that sell banking services to very specific targets. They stick as closely as possible to the expectations of a community with high-performance technological tools. And it works, very well. Take Qonto: this French startup launched in 2017 offers VSE/SME owners basic financial services, such as transfers and invoice management. It has already attracted 200,000 customers and has just raised 486 million euros from investors. Result: it is valued at 4.4 billion euros!