I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, not for any other reason other than as soon as I think it’s a good time, Starling announce another upcoming, game changing feature, so I hold off to see it. Within a short space of time, the Starling Bank app has introduced more features than most banking app have ever had or dreamed of having.
So what is Starling Bank doing that’s different and why has it won Best British Bank and Best Current Account 2018, when most have never heard of it?
Starling is a challenger bank, part of the ‘Fintech’ revolution that traditional banks are sweating over. We’ve heard many news reports recently of high street banks closing. This is mainly due to an increase on online banking, reducing the need of a bricks and mortar solution. This isn’t so good for elderly or rural customers though, as they are less capable of using an online solution, but times are changing and banks need to adapt. A big problem with established banks, are their existing IT systems are practically from the dark ages. Converting is costly and also risks affecting their customer services during the change over.
A new bank starting out like Starling, doesn’t have the overheads of high street properties and staff. It can start out with a new IT system and build from the ground up. In particular they are building around a new standard called Open Banking, which you can read more about here. Essentially it’s using a series of API’s allowing services to link together, reducing paperwork and improving security.
Most importantly to note with this approach, is Starling is mobile only. You still get a physical card to use, but you can’t speak to staff face to face, the idea with the app is there would be no reason to. Everything you can do with a bank account, can be achieved in the app. You also have 24/7 customer support and complete control over you card activity and direct debits.
With lower overheads, a new approach to banking, through modern technology, improving security and innovation, Starling claim they can pass on their savings to the customer in the form of better services and hopefully higher interest rates.
How does Starling differ on a day to day basis?
Being mobile only, it may seem restrictive, but that’s coming from your previous experience of online banking. No more login card reader to hand, or tricky passwords to remember, just a fingerprint login or pin. You can create and edit payee’s, handle direct debits and freeze your card on the fly, if you misplace it. Day to day banking immediately becomes easy.
Whenever any activity happens in your account, money going in or out, you get an instant notification on your phone allowing you to act quick if it looks suspicious. You can then review your spending over the day or month and set goals for saving. These goals take money from you main money pot and put it into a fenced area where you can set targets and regular savings to this goal. In reality, this isn’t a new savings account that you have setup, but a way to fence off a certain amount of money from your regular spending money.
There’s also a marketplace. This is probably the only area I have a mixed feeling about. Right now it feels like little more than a referral tool with ‘recommended’ services that link in with your Starling account. The long term idea is that these will neatly integrate with your account and allow you to bolt on new features from 3rd party services that Starling can’t provide directly. Right now though, most of them open up a new browser window and auto-fill some registration details from you Starling account, speeding up the signup process. Admittedly the marketplace and its associated API’s are still young, so only time will tell if this ambitious feature will be useful for consumers.
The Basics done well
What Starling does do well above all other banks and even other challenger banks, is getting the basics right. From starting off with an award winning current account, they have since expanded into other essential accounts. Earlier this year that launched business accounts, which come with no account fees, great for small businesses or sole traders starting out and need a simple solution. Earlier this month they also launched joint accounts. Another standard feature from a traditional bank, but a first for a UK challenger bank. It’s also the first joint account that can be opened from the comfort of, well, anywhere. Using modern Bluetooth features, two people can open their Starling account, apply for a joint account and connect their phones using a wireless in-app feature to signup together. Within 5 minutes couples have been sitting on the beach on holiday and created a joint account together, which has to be a world first.
Switching between these account has also been thought out. Just open the menu bar and tap on the relevant profile picture. No logging in and out of separate apps, BLISS! Although I do suggest to Starling to change the colour scheme between account so its clearer which account is active.
CEO Ann Boden has been leading the team since the start and says she is passionate about giving people more control over their money. This may seem like a cliche line from a banker, but seeing her in interviews, you get this a feeling that this banker actually cares! Ann is regularly on Twitter and their community forum helping customers. There’s very few bankers out there who are that hands on with CS.
There is a lot of other features I haven’t covered, but all in all many customers have been impressed, which is why it picked up awards at the start of the year and have been given praise from Martin Lewis, a UK money expert. Big banks, you need to catch up.