Over the last few years the small business banking scene has changed dramatically. Gone are the days of waiting weeks if not months for your business bank account to be set up. It can now be done in a matter of minutes. Two of the biggest small business challenger operations are Tide and Starling. So which is best suited to your small business? Today we’ll find out and look at Tide vs Starling Bank for business banking. As per usual this article contains affiliate links to help fund this website. I’ve personally used both Tide and Starling for my own businesses.

Tide vs Starling Bank – let’s cut to the chase!

Tide and Starling are incredibly evenly matched. I have personal experience of both and it’s all been overwhelmingly positive. As with most things there are pros and cons for each but it depends what you’re looking for in a bank account.

This is an honest comparison based on my own personal experiences. This article contains affiliate links – these help to cover the costs of running this free website. You can read more about affiliate links here.

Tide vs Starling vs high street banks

A good starting point is looking at their Trustpilot reviews. At the time this article was originally published, on June 14th 2023, both were rated 4.3 out of 5. This compares to 1.4 for Barclays and 1.4 for NatWest… and 1.4 for HSBC… and 1.6 for Lloyds. I can’t say I’m surprised. My last experience with a high street bank (Barclays) was abysmal.

There has been a recent drop in rankings of the Tide mobile app within the Google Play Store, dropping from 4.3 to 3.8. This is something you should be aware of and check whether the app pitfalls could impact your small business.

Tide vs Starling - Trustpilot reviews for Tide
Trustpilot reviews for Tide at 14/6/23

Tide vs Starling - Trustpilot reviews for Starling
Trustpilot reviews for Starling Bank at 14/6/23

Are you a UK-focused small business?

For a fairly typical UK-focused small business with simple needs, at the moment I would certainly consider Tide. In my experience their account opening is faster and with £50 cashback and free transfers for a year (see offer details below) you’ll probably be better off in the short to medium term. Tide also offer a whole host integrated features such as invoicing, receipt matching and other useful tools that could be really beneficial for start-ups.

Are your business needs more complex?

If you work with international transfers or have more complex banking requirements then I would probably go for Starling. An IBAN and BIC is provided as standard and day-to-day banking is free. In my experience account opening took slightly longer with Starling at 3 days vs a matter of minutes for Tide however this can vary from customer to customer. I’ve equally heard of Tide customers taking longer for account opening depending on the checks required. Both are extremely fast. It’s worth noting that Tide now seem to be providing an IBAN with new accounts but I haven’t tested the functionality.

Do you desperately need face-to-face business banking?

If you’re a small business then I’ve got bad news for you. Most high street banks don’t offer any over-the-counter business support services any more. They’ll simply refer you to a call centre. However if you deal with a LOT of cheques or a LOT of cash then a traditional high street bank may be your only option.

Let’s dig deeper – Tide vs Starling, what’s under the hood?

Monthly feeFreeFree
Card purchasesFreeFree
Cashback offer£50 *No
Account maintenanceOnlineOnline
Transfers *20pFree
FSCS protectionYesYes
Account set-up timeMinutes to DaysMinutes to Days
Sole traderYesYes
Limited companyYesYes
ATM fee£1Free
Direct DebitsYesYes
Cash deposit fee **0.5%0.7%
Cash withdrawal fee£150p
Credit interestSavings accountSavings account
Integrated invoicingYesNo
Accounting softwareTide Accounting
£11.99 per month
Business Toolkit
£7 per month
Limited company formationYesNo
Cashback on spend ***0.5%No
Trustpilot rating4.34.3
Google Play Store rating3.84.8
Ratings correct at 2/2/24

* Tide have an introductory offer exclusively for Small Business Toolbox readers. This includes £50 cashback and free transfers for the first year (20p per transfer thereafter). Transfers between Tide accounts are free.

** Tide charge £2.50 for cash deposits at the Post Office up to £500, after that it’s 0.5%. Starling charge a fee of 0.7% with a minimum charge of £3 per deposit.

*** Tide’s Cashback account costs £49.99+VAT per month and includes 0.5% cashback every time you spend with your Tide card. So if you spend more than £10,000 per month this account could pay for itself.

Tide vs Starling mobile app and desktop interface

The Tide mobile app was my first ever experience of what bank accounts should look like. It was always a genuine pleasure to use. Fast, responsive and easy integration with the desktop app.

Tide vs Starling - Tide mobile app
Tide mobile app

Similarly, the Starling Bank mobile app is just as good. Nominally different formatting but for all intents and purposes it’s the same. Fast, easy to use and a quick scan of a QR code will allow you to log in to the desktop interface. Tapping on a transaction allows you to add extra information such as:

  • Category
  • Note
  • Receipt (for expenses – photo or PDF)
  • Invoice (for income – photo or PDF)

If I had to be picky about Starling, it’s a few too many taps to find out your account number and sort code (Profile icon -> Account Details). Tide has this at the top of the screen without the need for any superfluous taps. Starling does however have a nice ‘Share’ button where you can share your full account details with all the usual suspects (SMS, WhatsApp, clipboard etc.).

So in terms of day-to-day account maintenance there’s really nothing in it. Both apps are a pleasure to use, both desktop interfaces are great, statements are in a nice easy-to-read format unlike certain other banks (I’m looking at you, Barclays!). I genuinely can’t call it – no preference either way.

Tide vs Starling FSCS protection – how safe is your money?

I don’t particularly advise leaving vast sums of money in any business bank account. Anything could happen. Spend it, pay yourself more or invest it.

However if you insist on having an £85,000 credit balance you should be covered. Do bear in mind that Tide isn’t technically a bank but its services are provided via ClearBank, which is a bank (apparently). Here’s what each say:

  • Tide offers bank accounts provided by ClearBank® Ltd (ClearBank) (account sort code is 04-06-05). ClearBank is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 754568. Eligible deposits with ClearBank are protected up to a total of £85,000 by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), the UK’s deposit guarantee scheme. For further information visit fscs.org.uk.
  • On the basis that Tide use ClearBank, here’s what ClearBank have to say: Copyright ClearBank Ltd. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (Financial Services Register number: 754568). Registered Address: ClearBank, Borough Yards, 13 Dirty Lane, London, SE1 9PA. They also have a page dedicated to FSCS protection here.
  • Starling Bank is registered in England and Wales as Starling Bank Limited (No. 09092149), 5th Floor, London Fruit And Wool Exchange, 1 Duval Square, London, E1 6PW. We are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority under registration number 730166. Starling have an entire page dedicated to FSCS protection here.

I ran a test on the FSCS protection checker based on Starling Bank and ClearBank for both sole traders and limited companies. Everything seems to check out with £85,000 protection shown:

Tide vs Starling FSCS protection checker
FSCS protection check for Tide (via ClearBank) and Starling

So on the assumption that Tide do indeed use ClearBank (ClearBank confirms on their own website that they do) then it certainly looks like normal FSCS protection is in place. I’m no lawyer though so you may want to get someone more qualified than me to check this out if you plan on leaving large sums in your account.

Invoicing and extra functionality

When it comes to ‘added extras’ over an above a high street bank, Tide are the clear winner. They offer a number of ‘extras’, none of which are essential but may certainly be beneficial for many young businesses. These include:

Tide invoice generation

Tide includes a free invoice generator. It’s basic but should do the job for most start-ups. More info here. If you sign up from that link make sure to use the referral code BUSINESSTOOLBOX (affiliate code) to get your £50 cashback and 1 year of free transfers (see full terms below).

Starling accounting software (Business Toolkit)

Starling’s accounting offering is known as the ‘Business Toolkit’ and costs just £7 per month (including VAT). This actually makes it cheaper than Tide’s offering (see below). The Business Toolkit features seem fairly comprehensive and should meet the needs of most small businesses. This includes:

Business toolkit features

I particularly like the instant invoice generation with 1-click payment matching once an invoice has been paid. You can customise the invoice with your business logo and send it by e-mail to your customer, all within the Starling business account.

Starling invoicing
Starling invoicing is simple and painless

Needless to say this also caters for MTD VAT submissions to HMRC.

Tide accounting software

Tide now provide some basic accounting software at a cost of £9.99+VAT per month. It brings four essentials of book keeping including personalised invoices, management of bills and cashflow, performance tracking and VAT. Apparently it’s MTD compliant (for VAT). More info here. Again, if you sign up from that link make sure to use the referral code BUSINESSTOOLBOX (affiliate code) to get your £50 cashback and 1 year of free transfers (see full terms below).

Tide Cashflow insights

Again, another nifty feature from Tide is Cashflow Insights. It’s free and gives a bunch of features to track things like payment probability, credit score etc. Not something I’ve ever needed from a bank account, but it’s there. I wrote an article about it a while ago.

Accountancy software integration

Both Tide and Starling offer integration with a wide range of accountancy software and other 3rd party products. These vary slightly but include the usual suspects such as Xero, FreeAgent and QuickBooks.

Tide service integrations

Tide integration with 3rd party apps and accounting software
Tide integration with 3rd party products

Starling service integrations

Starling integration with 3rd party apps and accounting software
Starling Bank integration with 3rd party products

So again, in terms of service integrations there’s really not much in it. Starling doesn’t appear to have a default integration with Sage, which is surprising, but from what I’ve heard it works.

Account restrictions – who can actually open an account?

Before I start on this section, a lot of people have been complaining recently about certain account types not being allowed or being closed down. While I certainly don’t agree with closing an account without some personal communication explaining the reasons, I’m afraid this has been going on for a LONG time. It’s not a new thing.

I’ve had multiple accounts turned down with big high street banks over the years for highly spurious reasons. Trading history, non-existent CCJ’s and credit rating all being factors.

We’re now living in an age where digital fraud and money laundering is commonplace and banks are constantly battling with this. Tide are particularly sensitive to this, presumably to protect their relationship with ClearBank. As such Tide don’t allow accounts for insurance providers, pawnbrokers, crypto trading and a bunch of others listed here.

I’ve also known people have issues with Starling Bank suspending accounts due to ‘unusual activities’. One such example was for a business legitimately purchasing some company vehicles. It triggered some sort of money laundering alert and froze their entire account for several days. They couldn’t run payroll or pay suppliers in that time. It got sorted in the end but it was very stressful for the business.

Unfortunately this will probably only become more commonplace as attack rates of fraudsters and scammers rise. Tide is probably more sensitive than Starling but as I say, I’ve witnessed similar issues with most banks.

Contract terms

Neither bank have a contract term. You can close your account at any time. To make use of the cashback offer from Tide you need to fund your account with at least £50 within 1 month.

Introductory offers for new account holders

At the time of writing, Starling don’t have any special offers or incentives for new members. However Tide are offering £50 cashback for Small Business Toolbox readers. They will also waive transfer charges for the first year. At 20p per transaction the £50 covers the cost of 250 transfers after the first year. So depending on the number of transfers you make you may be better off with Tide, at least for the first 2-3 years.

To conclude – what’s best, Tide vs Starling Bank

Both are young banks competing with a very established market full of big players. I’m sick of how the bigger high street banks treat customers though and any competition is welcomed. Ultimately only you can make this decision but for a relatively normal sole trader or small limited company, I would certainly consider making use of Tide and their cashback offer. If you run a slightly more complex business with international banking needs, I would go for Starling.

Tide offer terms

Tide’s offer is valid for new accounts only. To be eligible to receive the offer applicants must first successfully open a sole trader or limited company business current account with Tide. Account opening eligibility criteria and customary know your customer checks apply. To activate the offer the applicant must use the referral (partner) code: BUSINESSTOOLBOX. The applicant is required to either enter the referral code while signing up via the partner landing page or through the mobile app. The offer is limited to one £50 cashback reward per applicant. £50 minimum funding within 1 month of account opening. The reward will be paid into the applicant’s new Tide account. It can take up to 8 weeks from the date the applicant successfully opens their account for the reward to be validated and paid. Tide reserve the right to modify these terms and conditions or withdraw this offer at any time. This offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other Tide offer or promotion. 12 month free banking offer is by no means guaranteed. Please verify the offer is still valid when signing up.

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Last Updated on 14 June 2023 by Andy Mac