Investing in Banking: Top UK Bank Shares of 2024

UK currency with the text “Top UK bank shares” and The Motley Fool jester cap logo

When investing, your capital is at risk. The value of your investments can go down as well as up and you may get back less than you put in.

Read More

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to be, nor does it constitute, any form of personal advice. Investments in a currency other than sterling are exposed to currency exchange risk. Currency exchange rates are constantly changing, which may affect the value of the investment in sterling terms. You could lose money in sterling even if the stock price rises in the currency of origin. Stocks listed on overseas exchanges may be subject to additional dealing and exchange rate charges, and may have other tax implications, and may not provide the same, or any, regulatory protection as in the UK.

In the 21st century, the City of London has slowly become the financial hub for the rest of the world. As a result, some of the top banking shares in the world are listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE)

With centuries of experience, these banks have been crucial in developing the British economy as you know it today. They have funded businesses throughout the country and have helped elevate the economy. 

As a result, the top UK banking shares today offer strong dividends and steady growth. And over the years they have become the pillars of the investment community in the country.

We’ll break down what beginner investors need to know to explore and invest in the thriving UK finance sector, by looking at the top banking shares in terms of market share. 

What are bank shares?

Bank shares are publicly listed companies that provide a broad range of financial services to the public and businesses alike. 

Common operations include maintaining accounts and providing loans, mortgages, and asset management services. Banking groups also provide secure transactional pathways that enable account holders to pay and receive money via instruments like credit cards, debit cards, and digital transfers.

Top UK banking shares

Here are some of the top UK banking shares in order of highest market cap:

Company Description 
HSBC Holdings (LSE:HSBA)Banking behemoth with operations in over 60 countries, consistently ranked among the top 10 largest banks in the world
Banco Santander SA (LSE:BNC)This Spanish banker, headquartered in Madrid, Spain, is one of Europe’s largest banks in terms of assets 
Lloyds Banking Group (LSE:LLOYThe black horse bank is the premier British lender and has been in operation for over three centuries
Barclays (LSE:BARCHas a huge presence in mature and robust economies, holds the distinction of opening the first bank ATM in the world
Natwest Group (LSE:NWG)   British banker with a big focus on small and medium-sized business banking solutions

1.  HSBC Holdings 

The European banking giant, established in Hong Kong in 1865, has grown to become a huge force in the field. Currently, HSBC Holdings has the highest total assets of all major European banks, worth over $15trn. And the banking firm now has a new area of focus and a new strategy that looks exciting on paper. 

In the midst of the pandemic in 2021, HSBC announced that it was switching focus to the growing Asian markets while slowly withdrawing from Britain and the US. This led to the banker cutting over 35,000 jobs and acquiring smaller banking groups in countries like Singapore and India, further cementing its Asia-first strategy. 

And the move as already proven to be a successful switch for the banker. In July 2022, HSBC announced that it had become the first foreign lender to open a Communist Party of China committee in its Chinese investment banking subsidiary. While this move has been criticised by regulators in the UK, investors see this as a strong move that could open up a vast, economically affluent market.

As of July 2022, HSBC shares have regularly outperformed the FTSE 100 index. While this is not an indicator of future returns, 2022 has been a very turbulent economic period. This banking share’s ability to navigate choppy waters is impressive.

2.  Banco Santander SA

Banco Santander, or Santander Bank as it is known in the UK, is the 16th largest multinational bank in the world. It is one of the biggest bankers listed in the LSE today and has a huge presence in South America. It is also expanding slowly into the emerging Asian market as well. 

Santander’s priority over the last few years has been customer acquisition. Its campaign has proven successful, adding 32m new customers since 2015 and taking its total customer base to 153m. During this growth, the business has been maintaining a steady operating income that hasn’t dipped below €20bn since 2008.

And profits have been increasing too. In fact, 2021 was the most profitable year for the bank in its history, bringing in €15.3bn, thanks to strong business momentum across most regions. The company is also seeing loan approval rates go up in cash-rich regions like Europe and the US. The repaying ability of the average citizen in those regions is much higher than in Santander’s developing markets, which is a sign that recurring revenue growth could be high over the coming years. 

Santander shares might be lagging behind some of the other companies on this list when it comes to digital banking services. But it is making good strides and is actively developing a range of digital banking services. In 2021, 54% of its total sales were through its digital channels.

3.  Lloyds Banking Group 

As a mainstay of the British finance sector, Lloyds Banking Group is the most recognised bank in the UK. Since its operations are highly focused around Britain, Lloyds shares and its performance are seen as a barometer for the larger UK economy.

The cash-rich banker is looking to diversify its assets. Since a large majority of its income is from mortgage lending, the banker decided to enter the real estate market in full force in 2021. A partnership with top UK real estate developer Barratt Developments will see the bank acquire 50,000 plots by 2030, making it a top 10 developer in the region. 

Diversifying assets is crucial for UK banking stocks to avoid the pitfalls of recessions. The only way banks can offset losses from payment defaults is to invest their excess cash effectively. And despite falling housing prices, this move may open up a whole new market for Lloyds to explore over the next decade. Offering prepackaged loans for houses developed by Lloyds could become a unique sales pitch that could draw young buyers.

4.  Barclays

This universal British banker offers banking and investment solutions across the globe. With a strong presence in the US as well as top economies in Europe, Barclays is one of the most recognised names in the world of finance. 

The firm has made between £5bn and £8bn a year since 2018 on credit card payments alone. It also has a thriving business banking division and is a highly digitised business offering cutting-edge mobile banking solutions. Its banking app is one of the most downloaded in the western world with 10m users (as of 2021) and 3bn+ logins.

This FTSE 100 bank share’s poor performance across 2022, given the economic turbulence in the UK, has made its valuation incredibly attractive. It is currently one of the cheapest blue-chip banking stocks listed on the LSE. But investors and the board alike are sure that Barclays, like most top banking shares, will make a strong comeback as things get better.

5.  Natwest Group 

The final banking share on our list is no slouch. Natwest Group (LSE:NWG) is the largest business banker in the country. Supporting over 19m customers in the UK, Natwest aims to provide cutting-edge banking solutions and also has lofty environmental sustainability goals.

In fact, Natwest announced its Green Mortgage product, with £728m of lending allocated to champion green businesses. The bank supports several businesses that are helping other businesses meet their environmental goals as well. Natwest’s digital offerings are popular too. Over 60% of its retail current account holders interact with the bank only through digital mediums. 

On the business side, 2021 was a great year for Natwest. Total lending values grew by £7.8bn, primarily driven by mortgages. While this UK share has struggled like every other financial institution in 2022, over the last 12 months of trading, Natwest shares have risen over 15%. This places it second in terms of returns compared to all other banks on this list (behind HSBC). 

This shows investor confidence when the FTSE 100 index has been struggling for stability. And looking at Natwest’s historic dividend growth and the average yield of 4.5% across 2022, it is clear why investors favour this banking share over others.

Why are UK bank shares falling in 2022?

In 2022, markets worldwide have witnessed huge collapses. It is clear now that the economic impact of the pandemic will be drawn out. And the UK is in a particularly vulnerable state right now due to rising geopolitical tensions in Europe and the ever-changing energy lobby. 

Rising costs have raised inflation throughout the year and are expected to outstrip 11% by the end of 2022. As a result, banking shares have become a hot topic of debate right now as the Bank of England mulls further interest rate hikes. While some big lenders like Lloyds stand to benefit from higher interest payments in the short term, investors are still concerned about the spending power of the average citizen if the UK enters a recession. 

Forcing consumers to save every penny creates a bad business environment, especially for banks. Most banks make money for every transaction and thus stand to make less in a recession. Historically, a period of poor economic growth is marked by banking stocks falling fast. Also, in a recession, payment defaults could increase, which is a liability. 

Will banking shares recover?

The data shows that finance shares are the first ones to recover from a crash because banks tend to invest right, be cash-rich, and use governmental support to recover losses quickly. 

All the banking shares discussed on this list are considered blue-chip finance stocks with huge cash reserves and assets. And even in an economic downturn, banking services will be essential. Even after the crash in 2020, the banking stocks on this list have shown strong signs of recovery and are steadily posting better results every quarter.

If you are looking to add UK banking shares to your portfolio as a growth option or for passive income, these bankers are a great starting point. By understanding how these top banking shares are different, new investors can understand the fundamentals better and know what to expect from an investment in banking shares in the UK. 

This article contains general educational content only and does not take into account your personal financial situation. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be considered, and you may need to seek independent financial advice.  

To the best of our knowledge, all information in this article is accurate as of time of posting. In our educational articles, a "top share" is always defined by the largest market cap at the time of last update. On this page, neither the author nor The Motley Fool have chosen a "top share" by personal opinion.

As always, remember that when investing, the value of your investment may rise or fall, and your capital is at risk.