‘The Big Six’ – The main banks in the UK

When talking about the main banks in the UK, it’s traditional to refer to the Big Four – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and The Royal Bank of Scotland Group – but we think it’s worth including Santander and TSB to make a Big Six.

Santander and TSB are both Spanish-owned so are not ‘British’ banks, but they are a familiar sight on UK high streets, so we’ve included them on this list of the main banks in the UK on that basis.

It’s also worth noting that Royal Bank of Scotland Group also owns NatWest, and Lloyds Banking Group owns Halifax, both of which have plenty of branches nationwide too.

This all adds up to a complicated financial landscape that has changed a lot since the recession started in 2007.

Since that time, the UK government has stepped in to bail out Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley’s mortgages, Royal Bank of Scotland, Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Lloyds TSB, many of which have since changed ownership again or disappeared completely due to rebranding.

Why do the big banking groups matter?

Anyone who loses money due to their UK bank going out of business is entitled to protection by the UK Financial Services Compensation Scheme for deposits up to £85,000 at the time of writing.

But this limit applies to all the accounts you have with all of the banks that belong to the same parent company.

So for example, if you have an account with NatWest and also one with the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the balance of the two combined is over £85,000, you probably won’t get all of your money back if the group goes out of business.

If you are from a wealthy background and transfer a large amount of money into the UK, this is something you should be aware of, as it is a very good reason to divide your money between different banking groups, and it’s not always immediately clear which banks are linked with each other.

Opening an account with a big UK bank

The banks that have branches both in the UK and abroad – or whose parent group owns banks in other countries as well – might make it easier to get an international bank account new to the UK.

If you already have an account with the parent group in your home country, it is sometimes easier to open one in the UK as well, although you will of course be limited to whatever accounts that UK bank has available at the time.

When you don’t already bank with the parent group, or you want to open an international bank account with a big UK bank that only has branches in this country, you usually will not be able to do so far ahead of travelling to the UK.

In some cases you can apply for an account up to 30 days before you travel, but that does not necessarily guarantee that the account will be open and available for use by the time you arrive in the UK, or that you won’t be asked to complete the application process in person in a UK bank branch.

Apart from that, you will normally have to be living in the UK at the time you apply for a new bank account – this is part of the sector’s efforts to prevent fraud by making it more difficult to fraudulently open a bank account from outside of the UK.

How to open a UK account fast when new to the UK

If you need to open a bank account fast when new to the UK, the Arro Personal Account is worth considering – it is not actually a bank account, but an online account that gives you a UK sort code and account number, as well as access to UK payment methods like Faster Payments and Direct Debit (not currently available, but it’s coming soon!).

You have to arrive in the UK before you can apply, but once you are here, it can take as little as three minutes to set up a new account. You don’t need a good credit score and you don’t need a long address history in the UK.

We usually don’t even need to see your ID documents. Instead, we run a quick online ID check that uses databases from 160 countries to confirm who you are.

As long as you pass this check, our Fair Fit test, and are over 18, we guarantee to accept all eligible applications – giving you an account you can use in the UK within minutes.