In 2017 Starling won the race to become the first UK digital bank to offer personal current accounts.
During 2021 more than 60,000 people switched their personal current account to Starling using the seven-day switching service. For a bank that doesn’t offer switching incentives or bribes, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about.
In this article, I give my personal take on the Starling current account, as a long-term user and answer many of the questions those considering a switch away from traditional banking might ask.
What is Starling Bank?
Starling is a fully regulated UK bank founded by Anne Boden (former COO of Allied Irish Bank) in 2014.
It is headquartered in London, and employs more than 1,000 people across the UK.
Currently Starling is a private company, but Starling head Anne Boden has commented that the bank could go public in late 2022 or 2023.
Can Starling be trusted – Is my money safe?
Like all British banks Starling is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, with Customer deposits are protected up to £85,000 by the FSCS.
In this sense Starling is as safe as any of the main high street banks you might be accustomed to. One key difference though, is that unlike those high street banks, Starling doesn’t engage in risky lending practices. Remember Northern rock? So, in that sense your money is actually safer.
What are the key features of the Starling current account?
Without signed up bonuses or other incentives, digital banks such as Starling rely on their features to attract customers and keep them happy.
The Starling Bank App
This is most important feature for the customer as it’s their main form of interaction from the bank.
I’ve tried and tested pretty much every popular current account out there, and one thing that stood out was how the apps from banks such as NatWest, Santander, Nationwide, and to a lesser extent Barclays, seemed like something of an after though.
They have improved over the years, but not being able to add new payees via an app, or having to use card reader to send payments, left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Starling app really is leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to actually managing your account. The user experience has been taken into account, and everything you might need do, change, or view on your account is there.
In a way it has to be, as Starling is mobile-first bank. Whilst there is a web portal (think online banking), the whole idea behind the bank is that your account is managed via your phone.
This is something that first appeared with smart cards back in 2014, and has carried over into digital banks. Spending insights automatically groups together similar purchases, for example transport, eating out, shopping etc…
It’s a method of helping you take control of spending. Personally, I don’t find it particularly useful, but can see how for some seeing that spend £200 a month on eating out, might encourage them to change their habits.
I think it needs to go further though, and show spending habits over time, and track or alert you to trends and changes.
Another carry over from smart cards, reaving notifications at the time of spending, is something I find useful. Often the notification comes up even before the cashier or waiter or whatever can print the receipt.
It’s great for knowing if transactions have gone through, or from a security point of view, being notified of transactions as they happen.
Some of the traditional banks have started to incorporate this now into their apps but it’s far from the norm.
Starling was the first digital current account to offer interest on credit balances. Unfortunately, at 0.2 per cent it’s barely worth mentioning. The Bank of England base rate is expected to rise to over 1 per cent in 2022, so Starling are actually making money on your deposits.
That’s nothing new, and many traditional bank accounts don’t offer credit interest at all. What they do offer though is a savings account.
Nationwide has been particularly good over the years with customers opening a FlexDirect account able to earn 2 per cent AER for 12 months. First Direct customers can get access to a 3.5 per cent regular saver account, so there are semi-worthwhile saving accounts out there.
Starling’s answer to savings is ‘spaces’ this is an aera of your Starling account where you can set money aside. Whether it by for trips aboard, tax, or just saving for a rainy day.
There are multiple methods of moving money into these spaces, but my favourite is the round-up feature. This rounds up your spending to the nearest pound, ads that difference to your saving space. For example, if you buy a coffee at £2.25, Starling will round that up to £3, with the extra 75p being added to your savings.
Beyond low balance notifications or being notified the day before a direct debit is due, most banks don’t offer any budgeting features at all.
I remember budgeting being one the main issue Monzo users raised when considering switching to Starling instead.
Starling’s response to this has been to improve its budgeting features through the use of ‘spaces’. Yes, previously I mentioned spaces with regards to savings, but there is also a budgeting aspect here.
The Starling Bills Manager, allows you to select a space to pay your direct debits and standing orders from. It also estimates your upcoming bills for the months, so you can move the correct amount to your space.
It doesn’t work with recurring card payments, so items such as Netflix or Amazon prime can’t be paid from spaces, but all general household bills, such as water, electricity, council tax etc.. would be covered.
There are a few of ways to move money from your main balance into a space. You can set it up to move a set amount each month, or you can set a balance that space will automatically top up to.
This is something I’ve been experimenting with this recently, but I’d like to see an additional option allowing a percentage of income to be transferred automatically, rather than a fixed amount.
Digital banks such as Starling were amongst the first to put customers in control of their security. The app itself is secured via biometrics and a passcode, and within the Starling app you can:
• Lock or freeze your card
• Turn off ATM withdrawals
• Lock online transactions
• Prevent contactless or chip and pin payment
• Set your own contactless limit
• Turn off gambling payment
• Turn off magstripe payments
Additionally, you can also use the app to unblock your card, or example if you card is blocked because you’ve entered the pin incorrectly or the CVV is blocked.
These security measures combined with full FSCS protection, password protection when adding new payees, and 3D secure for online payments, leave me pretty confident my money is safe.
Cash deposits are an area where traditional banks have had an advantage other their digital counterparts. Their network of branches meant there was always somewhere close by to deposit that £50 your favourite granny gave you for Christmas, or the extra cash earned from a car boot sale etc..
With branch closures, the playing field has become a little more even. Starling customers can use the Post Office network to deposit up to £1,000 free of charge.
Once you go over that though you will be charged 0.7 per cent, or £3 whichever is the greater.
I’ve avoided cash since the mid-2000s. I remember NatWest and HSBC still required a paying in slip when depositing cash in branches, which I found a little ridiculous. With the majority of transactions in the UK being contactless, or faster payments, there isn’t much need to carry cash these days. That being said, for those that still prefer hard currency, Starling might not be the best option.
It’s probably worth tallying up how much cash and frequently you pay cash and, and work out what this might cost you.
Did you know: BBC: Debit card payments overtook cash for the first time in 2018
As someone not particularly fond of notes and coins, you can imagine my affection for cheques. Fortunately paying in cheques to sum of £400 or less can be done via the Starling app by simply taking a photo of the cheque. That’s it. Pretty neat.
Cheques over £400 need to be posted to Starling for processing. There is a freepost address you can use, but Starling recommend using recorded delivery. Of course, they would, that saves them money (the cost of postage), but also reduces the risk and hassle of the cheque getting lost in the post.
If you love cheques, and mainly receive cheques under £400 then Starling could be a great choice for you. Consequently, if you are regularly receiving larger cheques, or wanting to send cheques (Starling doesn’t issue a chequebook), then you might be better served elsewhere.
You can withdraw cash from your Starling account either via the post office, or an ATM. Either way you are limited to a maximum of 6 withdrawals a day, and a total of £300.
This is probably the largest downside for me. It is exceptionally rare for me to withdraw cash but some of the times I have been when buying something where the seller would only take cash, or paying for something abroad where only cash was accepted. A number of my cards had £500 daily withdrawal limits, so I’m at a loss to work out why Starling only allows £300.
The new UK Chase Bank account which I recently reviewed for Money Saving Answers has a daily ATM limit of £700.
It’s pretty rare to be in a situation where you need to withdraw more, but it’s a good example of why you should always have more than one account.
Foreign travel and spending
Starling is a top pick when comes to foreign spending for a number of reasons.
Firstly, you’re getting the Mastercard exchange rate without any additional fees or loading when using your card abroad either at the point of sale, or online.
ATM withdrawals are also fee free, and whilst you are limited to a maximum withdrawal of £300 a day, there is not arbitrary monthly limit like there is with Monzo, or Revolut.
Starling is part of the SWIFT payments network and SEPA (single Euro payments area) so you can send and receive international transfers directly from your main account. This is something that rival bank Monzo which isn’t connect to either network struggles with.
Starling current account holders can open a Starling Euro account free of charge. This allows you to send and receive money in euros fee free, or switch your card from GBP to EUR spending and this locking in a previous exchange rate.
For more on the Starling Euro account, take a look at our guide to Euro bank accounts
To open a joint account both parties must first have a personal account. Once that is done then setting up the joint account can be done quickly from within the app. There is no obligation to use the personal account if don’t want to, so it’s perfectly feasible to do your main banking elsewhere and only use Starling for your joint account.
I’ve not personally used the joint, but it carries all of the same features as the personal account, such as saving, this time for common goals, spending insights, bills manager, payment notifications etc.
Kid’s account – Starling Kite
In 2019 Starling launched the child friendly Kite account. This is linked to an adults existing Starling account and once set up, will come with a debit card complete with the child’s name on.
It’s aimed at kids between 6-16 years old to help improve their financial literacy and money management. The adult, can allocate up to £5,000 to the Kite card and track spending and block a lost Kite card.
Kids will be able to withdraw up to £100 in cash from ATMs as well as using the card in-store and online. Adults can place certain blocks on the card to prevent spending on certain things, and all gambling and betting is blocked automatically.
Once they reach 16 year’s old, kids will be invited to open a Starling Teen account which will automatically upgrade to a full account on their 18th birthday.
The Kite account is a £2 per month subscription, and is covered under the same £85,000 FSCS guarantee as the parent’s Starling account.
Digital banks top the charts when it comes to customers service, and Starling Bank is arguably the best bank in the UK having won has won the ‘Best British Bank Account Awards’ for four years in a row.
Separately research carried out on behalf of the FCA placed Starling and Monzo at the top of heap for overall current account service quality. The only banks that came close were First Direct, and Metro Bank, with traditional high street banks falling a long way behind.
How to open a Starling Bank personal account
Opening a new account is quick and easy. Like all UK bank accounts you will need proof of address and photo ID such as a passport, driving licence or EU ID card.
With those details at hand, you start the process of opening a Starling account here. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to up and running.
Starling will check your details with credit referencing agencies, but it does not perform a hard search (unless you apply for an overdraft), so will not have any impact on your ability to obtain credit.
Starling vs Monzo which one is better
Naturally people are going to want to compare Starling and Monzo. Whilst the comparisons are pretty straightforward, actually deciding which one is better for you is more challenging.
See our article Starling vs Monzo vs Chase for a comparison.
Starling is a bank built around modern living. It’s a complete banking solution with a slick app that provides a host of innovative features.
For some this innovation comes at the cost. Namely cash deposit limits, and low ATM limits.
As someone who embraces new technology, hates to wait in line, or call foreign call centres, Starlings current account, works well for my lifestyle and would recommend it to most, but I appreciate that it might not be for everyone.
Fast and easy to set up
Complete account management within the app
Fee free foreign travel
24/7 customer service
Transparency and reputation
£300 per day maximum ATM withdrawal
Cash deposit charges
I always been an advocate for having multiple personal current accounts. Unlike many of our European cousins, we’re blessed with free banking in the UK. The barrier to open a new account is low, so there is absolutely nothing stopping you from opening multiple accounts with different providers.
In fact, I would go so far as to say everyone should do this even if just to take advantage of switching offers or access high interest savings accounts.
Having multiple bank accounts does not affect your credit rating any way. By not taking advantage switching offers, you’re missing out on £100s in free cash every year.