I’m a big fan of challenger banks in the UK. The big players have caused enough problems over the years and competition is always a good thing. Today, by popular demand, I’m taking a look at Starling Bank. Is this the final nail in the coffin for traditional high street banking?
Over the many years of being in business I’ve used a lot of different bank accounts – NatWest, Barclays, Santander, Lloyds and HSBC to name but a few. I’ve had my fair share of frustrations with all of them from lengthy application timescales through to poor customer service and high fees. That’s why when a new player emerges on the market I’m always keen for them to do well and shake things up a bit.
I’ve already been pleasantly surprised by Tide and a few folk suggested I should also check out Starling Bank. So that’s exactly what I did. I’ve been using Starling for several months now and I’m so impressed I became a partner. So before I continue, a little housekeeping first. Remember I use affiliate links to fund this website – they’re better than adverts and don’t cost you a penny extra – read more about them here. If you want to jump straight in to opening a Starling Bank account then click here.
Is Starling Bank any good?
Let me cut to the chase. This is probably the best business bank account I have ever used. I’m not just saying that because I’m a partner. I sought out Starling AFTER using their account for myself for several months. I’m so impressed I’m even thinking of switching my personal banking to Starling (yes, they do personal current accounts too!). In a nutshell you get:
- A fully UK regulated account with £85k FSCS protection
- FREE UK business banking
- An awesome mobile and web app
- An IBAN & BIC as standard, so fine for international use
- My application took around 3 days
Who is Starling Bank for?
Starling is great for forward-thinking small businesses and even personal customers. You can apply for an account as a sole trader or limited company in minutes. For me it took around 3 days for our debit cards to arrive and for the account to be fully activated. You can open a range of accounts:
- Business account for limited companies
- Sole trader account for self employed
- Multi-currency accounts for EUR & USD
- Personal accounts
Personal accounts in themselves have a wide range of options including joint accounts, Euro accounts, teen accounts and the Kite card for ages 6-16, which is connected to the parent current account. They really have covered all bases. Impressive. I’ll stick to the business side in this article though.
Is Starling Bank safe?
Unlike many of the other challenger banks, Starling is a fully fledged UK bank, only without the high street branches. It’s authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 730166. This means your money is covered up to £85,000 by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). So as far as I can tell it’s as safe as any normal high street bank.
What can’t I do?
So far the only limitations I’ve found with Starling Bank are:
- No cheque book
- No physical branches
Neither of these are important for modern business banking. I don’t know about you but I haven’t written a cheque in years so the cheque book won’t be missed at all. You can still bank cheques so don’t worry about that – more on that later.
As for physical branches, I gave up on those years ago. I did try to visit my local Barclays a few months ago but it was raining and the queue was ’round the block so I gave up and went home. Banks such as Santander, who I’ve used in the past, don’t deal with business customers at their branches anyway. So the lack of branches really isn’t a problem.
So how do I bank cash and cheques?
This is really straight forward and makes a lot of sense. You simply bank cash via a Post Office. Rock up to the counter, do the chip & pin thing with your debit card, hand over the cash and it magically appears in your account. Post Offices are increasingly doing this for high street banks too (such as Santander business accounts) and it really makes a lot of sense. If you’re depositing into a business or sole trader account, there’s a 0.3% charge (minimum charge of £3) for each deposit.
As for cheques, this is even easier since you don’t need to leave the house. You simply take a photo of the cheques via the app. This works for cheques up to £500 in value. Anything past that you simply post them to ‘Freepost Starling’ and they’ll do the rest. Again, this is all handled via the app and it guides you through the whole process.
What sort of card do I get?
Starling give you a Mastercard world debit card as standard. I’ve been using mine for several months and it’s just a standard debit card as far as I can tell. No issues. Totally unremarkable. It works for chip & pin and contactless payments absolutely fine. It works for online payments absolutely fine. No issues here.
Mobile and desktop app
If you’ve watched the above video you’ll already know I’m a big fan of well designed mobile and desktop banking apps. These have historically been a nightmare with some of the bigger banks. Cluttered, slow interfaces and common functions hidden away in the depths of the website.
Thankfully the Starling banking apps for both desktop and mobile don’t disappoint here either. It does everything you need it to do… and that’s it! No clutter. Nothing hidden away. Beautifully designed for modern business banking.
The mobile app gives an ‘at a glance’ picture of your finances from the home screen. Current balance and spending patterns are there to view at a glance without any superfluous screen taps.
- Top right menu lets you switch between different accounts
- Top left menu lets you pay people (Payments) and bank cheques (Add money)
- Bottom right menu gives a rolling list of transactions
As is usual these days, the desktop app is accessed by authenticating via your mobile app. This has worked flawlessly on every occasion I’ve used it. Simply hit the login button in your desktop web browser, enter your account number and mobile number, your mobile will give you a notification to authenticate and your desktop app will then magically work. It’s all very clever.
You can then do everything you can do via the mobile app plus a few extra things. This includes a few extra card controls, such as the ability to block gambling transactions (nice touch!) and of course the ability to download statements.
Statements are easily downloaded in a choice of either PDF or CSV format. PDF gives you an easy-to-read statement. CSV lets you import the data in to other applications (such as Excel or accounting applications). A special thank you for sticking to a standard statement format too! Money in, money out, rolling balance. That’s all you need. Unlike Barclays who also show a daily transactional subtotal making it a nightmare when it comes to reconciliation.
If you want to go beyond day-to-day banking Starling have made this a piece of cake too. They offer a wide range of integrations with everything from accountancy software such as Xero and FreeAgent through to legal support and insurance services.
At the time of writing there are no fewer than 17 separate marketplace services to choose from. Too much to go in to here but if you want to read more about it visit this link.
What about business lending?
All of that is covered too. Overdrafts are simply charged at 5%-15% from £250 to £150,000 based on their assessment of your business. There’s slightly different rules depending on whether you’re a sole trader or limited company but you can read more about that here.
They also have a range of loans available including the Coronavirus CBILS loans and the BBLS business Bounce Back Loan Scheme. Standard business loans are available from £5,000 to £250,000 with a representative APR of 7%.
The death of high street banks
In all honesty I fell out of love with high street banks a long time ago. High fees, increasingly poor customer service and a monumentally bad online banking experience. My recent experiences with Barclays have been truly awful. My past experiences with NatWest were truly awful.
When you see how it should be done by the likes of Starling it really is a breath of fresh air. It’s about time the market had a shake up and I’m delighted to see Starling Bank doing just that.
Give them a try for yourself and see how you get on. I’m so impressed that after almost 30 years of loyalty to my high street bank I’m even considering switching my personal banking over to Starling. Overwhelmingly impressed. Well done!
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Originally published: 23rd October 2020
Last updated: 12th November 2020