App review: Starling (4 stars)

App review: Starling (4 stars)

Pros: Set up a current account within minutes and card delivered in days, real-time updates, visual categorisation of spending and the option to ringfence money for “goals”, joint and business accounts available. Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay and fee-free use abroad.

Cons: No branches for face-to-face communication or phone call support, only available in the UK, and although linking to a traditional current account is not necessary I personally feel more comfortable using it that way. I’d love to be able to edit spending categories.

Starling Bank

I have to admit, I didn’t think I needed a current account “built for mobile”, which is how Starling describes itself, at first.

Despite being interested in start-ups and financial technology (fintech) and aware there an increasing number of these, I felt I was doing just fine with my existing bank’s app.

While it might not look pretty, it works, and having been with that bank since my first year of university, I’m happy with their service overall. I wasn’t looking for a new bank.

Since signing up for a Starling account I’ve totally changed the way I manage my finances. There’s more managing going on because there’s more information to scrutinise. It sounds obvious, but it’s just so easy.

Aside from how quick and effortless setting up an account is (download app, enter details, take passport photo and record a video of yourself for ID), it updates immediately after each transaction.

I don’t have to estimate “how much is REALLY in my account, because I know I got my nails done at the weekend but it’s not gone through yet?”, which is what I had got used to doing before.

When life seems to be speeding up, it more than makes sense for our balances to be updated in real-time so we can keep up!

The big change on my end is I’m very clearly dividing my spending between absolute essentials - mortgage, bills, groceries, not the Waitrose ones - and everything else.

I basically only use the Starling account for the “everything else”, the bit that is changeable and can be controlled. It’s like giving myself pocket money, and seeing it there I don’t want to waste it.

How does it work?

Starling Bank says opening one of their accounts can take “weeks”. In my case, it took five minutes to sign up and my card arrived within days. You need to be over 16 and live in the UK. Most people get an instant decision after applying via their mobile phone, it says.

Download the app and make sure you have photo ID (e.g. UK passport or driving licence) to hand. You will verify who you are by taking a short video selfie and photographing your ID. Starling Bank will carry out checks via a UK Credit Reference Agency.

Signing up for a business bank account takes a little longer (10 minutes instead of 5). To open a joint account you both need to have a Starling current account.

The contactless Mastercard debit card usually takes 2-3 working days to arrive, Starling Bank says.

Who started Starling?

Anne Boden, founder and chief executive of Starling Bank, launched the app-only bank in 2014 after a career in banking. The former chief operations officer of Allied Irish Banks grew up in Wales and has described her early career ambitions as a “job in an office with a briefcase”. She studied computer science and started her career at Lloyds Bank on a graduate programme. Later she held executive positions at Standard Chartered Bank, UBS, ABN Amro and RBS.

She was spurred into action in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The “challenger bank” now has more than 150 employees, more than 100,000 customers and was voted Best British Bank by Smart Money People’s British Bank Awards.

What are the main features and benefits?

  • Nearby Payments mean you can share money with friends.

  • Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, FitBit Pay and Garmin Pay.

  • Authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority and regulated by the Prudential Regulatory Authority, which issues licences to banks.

  • Financial Services Compensation Scheme protection up to £85,000.

  • Instant payment notifications and direct debit reminders.

  • Categorisation of spending and monthly reports.

  • Savings Goals to ringfence money.

  • Card locking if you lose it, options for deactivating ATM withdrawals or online payments or online gambling.

  • Online community page or chatbox for questions.

  • Fee-free use abroad.

  • Supports the Women in Finance Charter.

  • Overdrafts and loans and “Marketplace” takes you to third-party financial services such as mortgages, pensions, travel insurance. Be aware Starling Bank is paid by these providers if you take out their products, but it is transparent about it.

Anything I’d change?

There’s no shortage of competition in the fast-paced fintech “financial technology” space. Other digital-only bank accounts include Monzo, Atom Bank, Fidor, Revolut and Tandem Bank. It’s always worth shopping around!

I liked the fact I didn’t have to go on a waiting list to join, as I had experienced with another one to my frustration. I would prefer to have the option of telephone support in addition to the 24/7 chat box, but I’m glad it is 24/7 (some others aren’t).

It’s not something I’m planning to do myself, but keep an eye on the interest charged for money you borrow (15% EAR - Equivalent Annual Rate or overdraft rate).

One thing I’d love to be able to do is edit the categories in the app. Sometimes I find it doesn’t know where to place something, so things get bundled into a less useful category called “General” alongside “Groceries”, “Entertainment” and “Eating Out”.

Some technological advancements available in other apps to “round-up” payments and put the “change” towards a goal or take a lump sum on a particular day, typically pay day, don’t feature.

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