Starling Bank Review – Is It The Best Digital Bank Account?

Our Verdict

A digital bank account packed with features and no monthly fees, FSCS protection, scam protection, and a full UK banking licence makes Starling Bank our top-rated digital bank. On top of that, it’s the best bank account for travelling abroad as it has no FX fees at all on card spending or cash withdrawls and no transaction limits. 5/5 from us.
Starling Bank is regulated by the PRA & FCA and has FSCS protection.

Table of Contents

Starling bank logo for Starling bank review

This is our review of Starling Bank, the app-only digital bank that’s seen rapid growth in recent years.

I worked in banking in the UK for almost 10 years and saw the impact made by digital, tech-savvy challenger banks vs. the established banks. Starling was one of the first of the new wave of challenger banks that operates solely through a mobile app.

Starling bank is a great digital bank which offers FSCS protection and 24/7 UK based customer support. This makes it really stand out compared to its rival digital finance apps such as Revolut, Monzo and Monese.

On the tech side, Starling’s app is packed with useful features including an in-app ‘marketplace’ through which you can sign up with other companies’ financial services. On top of that, it offers traditional banking products such as loans and overdrafts. Again, this sets it apart from its main competitors. 

Ready our head-to-head comparisons of Starling and its main rivals below:

Read on for our full Starling Bank review so you can see if it’s the right mobile banking app for you, or use the links below to skip ahead.

Read our independent reviews of the main alternatives to Starling here:

What Is Starling Bank?

Starling Bank began life in 2014 and was one of the first digital challenger banks that entered the UK market. It’s an app-only banking alternative to the traditional branch-based banks such as Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays.

Unlike its main rival start ups, Starling aimed to compete directly with the traditional banks rather than focusing on money transfers and international payments.

How Did Starling Bank Form? A Brief History

Starling Bank is now among the best-known challenger banks dominating the UK fintech banking industry. Its aim was to become a tech-focused, fairer and smarter banking alternative to the existing retail banks in the UK.

It received its banking licence with restrictions in 2016 from the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and unveiled one of the UK’s first mobile-only current accounts in 2017. In April 2017 the PRA removed the restrictions on Starling’s bank licence, making it one of the very few new companies to be granted a full banking licence in the last century.

The bank’s founder, Anne Boden, brought strong authority to the app when it first launched, having worked for major traditional banking corporations Lloyds and Allied Irish Bank in the past. She also helped create the UK’s CHAPS real-time payment system.

On March 30, 2021, Starling Bank had a total of 2.14 million customers with the average customer depositing £1,800 into an account. The bank now allows customers to transfer money to 36 countries worldwide.

Is Starling A Bank?

Yes. The bank received its banking licence in 2016 and is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), which oversees bank regulation in the UK. Starling is also officially regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), as well as the PRA. 

Starling offers traditional banking products such as overdrafts and loans. It also has FSCS protection, meaning your deposits are guaranteed by the regulator up to £85,000. See more on this below.

Starling Bank’s Pros & Cons

Before getting into the details in this Starling Bank review, here’s a summary of its pros and cons.

Starling Bank Pros

  • No monthly fee for the services: Unlike other online-banking apps, Starling has no monthly account fee to use its services
  • Full FSCS protection: You’ll get FSCS protection on your deposits, a major plus compared to other app-only bank accounts such as Revolut and Monese
  • 24/7 UK based customer support: Starling offers 24/7 customer service with representatives based in the UK, so if you’re ever worried about your finances, you can contact them anytime. This is particularly important when it comes to your money as instances such as fraud may require urgent attention
  • Fee-free spending abroad: Similar to other banking apps such as Monzo, Starling provides no additional fees when spending abroad
  • Marketplace with 3rd party integrations: You’re able to access products and services provided by other companies and fintechs within the Starling Bank app, which means there are lots of features to choose from beyond Starling’s own offerings
  • Fast and easy to set up: Traditional banks may require you to go into a physical branch to set up an account whereas Starling allows you to set up your account and start using it within a few hours

Starling Bank Cons

  • Accounts only available for UK residents: At the time of writing, only UK residents are permitted to open an account
  • Lack of features compared to some rivals: Starling doesn’t offer as many in-app features as some of its rivals, particularly Revolut. For example, there’s limited investing and trading options. Its Marketplace also only features 3rd parties that Starling has chosen, which may not necessarily give you the best product or price
  • No branches: This may be a problem if you prefer to interact with someone in a physical branch.
  • Cheques can take over a week to be processed: Cheques can take longer to be processed than traditional high street banks where you can go in person to a branch and receive the money almost instantly after depositing. However, you can scan cheques through the app for amounts up to £1,000
  • Cash deposits can only be made at branches of the Post Office: Limited in where you can make cash deposits

Starling Bank’s Key Features

  • Set up saving ‘Spaces’: Earn interest whilst saving towards personal financial goals.
  • Pay bills from saving spaces: Automatically pay any direct debits and standing orders.
  • Nearby payments: End payments securely to Starling customers nearby.
  • Freeze your card: Freeze your card in-app if lost or stolen.
  • Disable/Restrict and block payments: Disable chip and pin or contactless payments, restrict online spending and block transactions.
  • Settle up: Easily split payments with a ‘settle up’ link.
  • Paperless statements: Easily access your statements within the app.
  • Instant spending notifications: Receive instant, real-time notifications whenever you spend.
  • Categorised spending: Have your transactions sorted into categories automatically.
  • Modify your contactless limit: Choose how much you can spend on contactless payments.
  • Round up spending: Round up transactions to the nearest pound to save money towards a specified savings goal. 
  • Free cash withdrawals abroad (excluding an ATM’s standard fee)
  • No foreign transaction fees: Spend abroad for free with no additional charges added or an exchange rate mark up fee.
  • International money transfers: The app can also be used for international money transfers. Users pay a 0.4% transaction fee, local network fee (if applicable) & a flat rate delivery fee of £5.50 for faster payment. This is much cheaper than many banks that can charge up to 5% for international money transfers.
  • Marketplace: Integrate your Starling Bank account with other financial products.
  • Mobile cheque deposits: Deposit cheques up to £1,000 from your mobile phone.
  • Additional ‘Connected’ card: Users can order an additional card and give it to those who they trust to make purchases on their behalf. Everything can be controlled via the app.
  • Split this payment: if you have your salary paid into your Starling bank account you can setup a feature which automatically sorts it into pots and joint accounts, which is useful if you want help automating savings.
  • Virtual cards: you can have up to 5 virtual cards per customer, free of charge, with personal or joint accounts which is great if you don’t want to bother with a physical card

Featured Features

No foreign transaction fees and free cash withdrawals abroad: This feature is particularly suited for those who love travelling and want to avoid any extra fees that a traditional bank might charge. Unlike some rivals, you don’t need to pay a monthly account fee to unlock fee-free spending abroad features

Nearby payments: You can make payments to another Starling Bank user without requiring their account details if they’re nearby using bluetooth through the app

Disable/Restrict and block payments: Amongst other challenger banks, this feature stands out for Starling. Within the app, you can disable chip and pin or contactless payments, as well as the ability to restrict online spending. Therefore, you can always be reassured that your money is safe and within your control.

Starling Bank Review: How Does Starling Bank Work?

Starling Bank offers a range of personal, joint and business accounts. These are available primarily through its app, but you can also log in online using your PC, laptop or tablet.

Starling Bank Personal Accounts

As with traditional bank accounts, you will receive a contactless Mastercard debit card and will be able to set up standing orders and manage direct debits via the app.

You can make up to six cash withdrawals with a maximum £300 withdrawal limit per day and deposit cash at more than 11,500 Post Office branches nationwide, completely free of charge. From 1st March 2022, you will be able to deposit up to £1,000 at a Post Office free of charge. Anything over this amount will cost 0.7% of the balance deposited.

For personal singular accounts, Starling provides an optional overdraft. The fee is an equivalent annual rate (EAR) of 15%, 25% or 35% based on your credit score. Most digital challenger banks don’t offer overdrafts, so this is a useful feature if you want the benefits of a digital bank account but still with the option of a traditional lending facility.

The app will show you real-time balances and send instant payment notifications so you can track your spending. After building some knowledge of your spending habits, you will have access to spending insights that give you a breakdown of where your money goes and how you can budget better. 

The ‘Spaces’ section rounds up your spending which can then be put towards a large financial goal such as a house, car or holiday. 

Starling Kite Account

Starling Bank’s Kite account is designed specifically for children aged between 6-16 years old. You can set up regular payments and instantly transfer money into a Starling Kite account. They do cost £2 a month per card, but add no additional charges for transferring or withdrawing money. The first month is free, though.

The Starling Kite is an excellent way of showing children how to set and strive towards savings goals, assisted with spending analytics built within the app. Adults can also set spending limits and receive instant spending notifications whenever their child spends money (including both physical shops and online stores).

Starling Bank Teen Account

For 16-17 year olds, Staring Bank offers a Teen account, which operates in broadly the same way as a personal current account. The only major difference is that you won’t be eligible for an overdraft.

Features such as Nearby Payments and Settle Up are likely to be particularly useful for Teen Account holders.

Starling Bank Business accounts

Starling Bank’s business account is similar to that of their personal ones, but the application process to get yourself approved may take slightly longer. However, the set-up process and in-app features are almost exactly the same.

Although there are no fees associated with a Starling business account, you have the option to sign up to their ‘Business Toolkit’ for £7.00 a month. Within the kit are some useful business admin tools such as extra bookkeeping, invoicing and VAT features.

Starling Bank also doesn’t charge monthly fees or ATM withdrawals for their business account owners. What’s more, you are able to link up popular accountancy software tools such as Quickbooks and Xero all within the app. This is particularly helpful for those who prefer to keep their business finances organised and all in one place. 

Unlike personal account holders who can deposit money free of charge, Starling’s business users do have to pay a 0.3% charge with a minimum of £3. From 1st March 2022, all business account holders will be charged a fee of £3 or 0.7% of the balance deposited (whichever is greater). 

There are no fees for ATM withdrawals but it will cost £0.50 to withdraw up to £300 a day over the counter at the Post Office.

You can apply for lending products as a Starling Bank Business customer. This includes overdrafts and a business loan of up to £250,000.

Starling Connected Card

Starling’s ‘Connected’ card grants others permission to spend money on your behalf. The card has a £200 limit, but the money is held in a separate ‘space’ in your Starling app and is therefore separate from the money in your main account. The card cannot be used at ATMs or for any gambling transactions. In order to access the card, the permitted user(s) must have a Starling Bank personal account.

This is a useful feature if you want to allow other people in your family to spend money whilst retaining control over finances, such as a young adult at university.

How Do I Sign Up For A Starling Bank Account?

To open a Starling account, simply download the app on your Android or iOS device. In order to sign up, you’ll need an ID in the form of a driving licence, passport, UK Residence Card or EU ID Card. 

They also ask for proof of address, such as a council tax letter, utility bill, or alternative UK bank statement. They then require you to provide a video selfie and soft credit check.

If you want to open a Starling Euro account, you will still need to apply for a UK current account initially before then applying for a euro account via the app. 

Read more below on how I signed up for a Starling Bank account.

Starling Bank Review: Who Is Starling Bank For?

If you’re looking for a banking app that has the most up-to-date financial management technology, filled with various features to help track your finances, Starling is definitely suited for you. Their spending categorisations combined with instantaneous spending notifications make an excellent system for managing and meeting your financial goals. 

What’s more, there are no transaction fees abroad, which is an added bonus whenever you’re looking to travel.

If you want the benefits of a tech savvy, digital bank account but still would like traditional bank features such as an overdraft and FSCS protection then Starling Bank is for you.

Who is Starling not for?

If you’d prefer a more traditional and simplistic style of banking, Starling likely won’t be suited for you. With no in-person branches, adapting to financial management solely through your phone may be daunting for non-avid smartphone users.

Likewise, Starling won’t be suited for you if you work in a cash-centric industry. The fees that you would incur from regularly receiving cash and cheques likely wouldn’t outweigh the benefits of having a Starling account. 

How Much Does Starling Bank Cost?

There are no fees for a Starling Bank personal account and no charges when travelling abroad, but you will still need to pay the exchange rate on international withdrawals or transactions (set by MasterCard if you pay in the local currency).

Personal users will only incur charges if they enter into an overdraft, dependent on the EAR rates of 15%, 25% or 35%, with interest accrued daily and charged monthly.

From 1st March 2022, Starling announced a 0.7% charge on cash deposits at the post office that exceeds the £1,000 annual limit.

There’s also a 0.4% fee on currency transfers between your GBP and EUR accounts.

Starling Bank Review: Is Starling Bank Safe?

Starling is a regulated bank authorised by the PRA and regulated by both the PRA and the FCA – the main banking and finance regulators in the UK. This means it has assured the regulators that it adheres to strict rules and controls around the way it operates, and it reports on its operations frequently to the regulators. 

It must follow a strict rulebook (literally called the PRA Rulebook) to satisfy the PRA that it is fully compliant with the regulations that govern banks in the UK. As a result of this and being FCA regulated, Starling Bank must protect customers’ money and treat customers fairly. You can also complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you have any issues with Starling Bank that cannot be resolved directly with them.

Your money is also protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) which covers £85,000 (£170,000 on joint accounts) of your cash if Starling was to go out of business. Not all of Starling Bank’s rivals can offer this, including Revolut and Monese.

How Does Starling’s Capital Compare To Traditional Banks?

I used to work on regulatory disclosures at a multinational bank, so for this Starling Bank review I dived into their Pillar 3 disclosure. Regulated banks in the UK must provide financial and capital information publicly and to the regulator so that they can be assessed for risk. A Pillar 3 disclosure contains much of this information and is required by the PRA for all UK regulated banks.

Without wanting to get too technical for this Starling Bank review, their key ratios look healthy. They have a Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio of 40.0% and a Leverage Ratio of 7.85% (both as at 31st March-22). These ratios measure the amount of high quality capital the Bank holds compared to its total exposures. Essentially the higher the ratios, the better capitalised the bank is and, in theory, the better it is able to absorb losses in the event of major risks occurring.

By comparison to the ratios reported by traditional banks in 2021-22, the CET1 Ratios of Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Nationwide and NatWest range from 13.3% (Barclays) to 36.4% (Nationwide), so Starling Bank sits comfortably above them. The same applies to the Leverage Ratio which ranged from 4.4% (Barclays) to 5.5% (HSBC) compared to Starling’s 7.85%. 

Starling and the Authorised Push Payment Scams Voluntary Code

Starling Bank is the only ‘challenger’ bank to have signed up to the Lending Standards Board’s Voluntary Contingent Reimbursement Model Code on Authorised Push Payment (APP) scams. 

That sounds like a bit of a mouthful but APP scams have hugely increased in recent years. It involves scammers accessing some of your account details and then pretending to be from your bank and convincing you to provide them with authorisation codes. They’re then able to transfer money from your account to their account.

Notably, Revolut has received negative courage about its refusal to compensate customers who have fallen victim to APP scams. 

Starling, however, has committed to reimbursing customers who fall victim to these scams, subject to checks. This makes Starling, in our view, the safest of the challenger banks.

Aside from the Voluntary Code, Starling says it uses advanced data encryption and storing technologies to ensure your personal information and transactions are sent and stored securely.

Starling Bank Review: How To Sign Up To Starling Bank

My Starling Bank review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t walk through how I signed up for an account. Listed below are the steps required to sign up and start using a Starling Bank account:

My Starling Bank review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t walk through how I signed up for an account. Listed below are the steps required to sign up and start using a Starling Bank account:

Step 1: Visit Starling Bank’s Website Or Download the App

Start by heading to Starling Bank’s website and click get started. Or you can download the Starling Bank app from your phone’s app store.

Step 2: Open an Account

In order to open a Starling account, you’ll need to provide some personal information. This will include the basics such as your full name, home address, nationality, date of birth, and contact details. You’ll also need to confirm your mobile number via a text message.

Step 3: Verify Identity

To ensure Starling complies with UK anti-money laundering laws, you will then be asked to verify your identity. They offer a range of ways to prove your identity, but the most straightforward methods will be using your driving licence or passport. 

You’ll then be required to perform a quick video verification. Follow the instructions on screen by repeating the on-screen sentence. 

Step 4: Source of Funds

You will need to specify where your Starling account funds will be coming from. For example, this includes a monthly salary, investment income, or rental income.

Step 5: Order and activate your Debit Card

The final part of the registration process will require you to order your debit card. It typically takes a few days for the card to arrive at your home address. Once it does, follow the instructions enclosed within the letter to activate it.

After that, you’ll be fully ready to start using your Starling account! Starling’s sign up process was pretty straightforward but not quite as simple and smooth as Monese’s.

Using Starling Bank Abroad

You can spend money abroad in your Starling account at no extra cost. When spending abroad, Starling Bank exchanges your money to the local currency using the Mastercard interbank exchange rate but does not charge any additional transaction fees. 

You can also withdraw cash from an ATM abroad with no additional fees, although some foreign ATMs may have separate charges not associated with Starling Bank.

This is another area where Starling Bank outshines its rivals. For example, with Revolut and Monese to get the lowest cost spending abroad you must pay for one of their subscription bank accounts. With Starling Bank there are no subscription fees to get access to its lowest cost spending abroad and international payments features.

A useful feature with Starling when making a transaction is that whilst abroad, your instant spending notification will tell you how much you have spent in both pounds and the local currency, so you can always keep track of your spending.

Starling Bank Review: Apple, Google, Samsung & PayPal Integrations

Starling offers the ability to integrate your Starling debit card to Apple and Google Pay directly in the Starling app so that you can start spending instantly on your iPhone or Apple Watch. You can add your debit card to your Apple or Google mobile wallet before the physical card arrives, so you can start spending straight away.

This is a particularly useful feature in those times when you’re in a hurry and forget your purse or wallet at home. The majority of us always take our phones wherever we go, so you’ll likely never be in a situation where you won’t be able to pay for something. 

You can also add your Starling Bank card to your PayPal account. However, it’s not as useful as linking your PayPal account with Monese, which allows you to view your PayPal account directly through the Monese app.

Starling Bank also integrates with Samsung Pay, but to add your Starling debit card you’ll need to do so through the Samsung Pay app. 

Earning Interest At Starling Bank

Starling Bank allows you to earn 3.255% interest on anything up to £5,000. Anything above this threshold does not earn interest. Although this doesn’t seem like a lot, Starling is one of the few challenger banks that pays interest on current account balances, so at least you get something!

Starling Bank Reviews

Rated 4.4 stars on Trustpilot, Starling contains 85% excellent and great reviews and only 12% poor or bad reviews. Its rating of 4.4 puts it alongside Monzo and ahead of Revolut (4.3) and Monese (4.0).

Examples of recent Starling Bank reviews below:

Excellent, 5 stars reviews:

  • “Excellent. Moved over from Barclays and was having so many problems with their online platform. Easy to use and all information instant from the app when any money is spent or received. So much better. Highly recommend”
  • “I love Starling, I switched from NatWest and never looked back! Definitely an app of the future here today!!”

Bad/Poor reviews: 

  • “My account has been restricted and no one can provide a reason why this has happened and it’s been going on for a week”.
  • “Disappointing. No acknowledgement that you have applied. No way of contacting them after applying… My application was rejected within 24 hours because I am apparently high risk”. 

Starling Bank is also rated 4.9/5 on the Apple App Store based on 373,000 ratings.

Starling Bank Customer Service

Overall, Starling’s customer support is great, especially if you prefer communicating through chat/email to speaking to someone on the phone. They have a range of options available to get in contact with them:

Help centre: Starling’s help centre contains answers to most of their commonly asked questions, allowing you to bypass having to get in contact with their customer support team. 

Chat function/Live chat: Can either be accessed through the app or via the Starling website. We received a reply within 2 hours; not the best we’ve reviewed but also not the worst.

Email: Emails to [email protected] are reportedly regularly monitored. Starling again aims to respond within a 2-hour window.

Phone: Although Starling has a phone number, it is only available for lost and stolen card emergencies.

A comforting part of Starling’s customer support is that its support teams are UK based and available 24/7. This is perhaps particularly reassuring for those who are sceptical about Starling’s absence of bank branches but still want to ensure they have access to help whenever needed.

Starling Bank has also won numerous awards, many of which take into account their customer service track record. In 2022 they won the Best Current Account Provider at the British Bank Awards for the 5th year in a row. In 2023, they were also crowned Which? Banking Brand of the Year.

Starling Bank Review – Final Verdict

Starling Bank has FSCS protection and, as a regulated bank, must comply with strict controls to keep customers’ money safe. This level of regulation and protection sets it apart from most rival challenger banks. At the same time, it’s able to offer overdrafts to customers which means you get traditional banking products as well as a cutting edge fintech app. 

As I discussed earlier in this Starling Bank review, Starling has a good range of useful features built-in, such as Nearby Payments and Settle Up which will appeal to younger, tech-savvy customers. However, it does lack in its wealth-building offering, particularly compared to Revolut which allows you to trade and invest with your own money. Having said that, Starling Bank’s Marketplace allows you to sign up to 3rd party products and services, including Wealthify. This is something that would be nice to see built out and scaled up in the future to add more options for customers.

What’s more, although comparable to all challenger fintech banks, Starling’s lack of branches is likely to deter those who prefer a traditional style of banking. Additionally, if you primarily deal with cash and cheques, the lack of functionality and limits around both of them will make it difficult to use Starling as your primary current account. But that’s the case for most challenger banks.

Overall, Starling is an excellent choice if you’re seeking a new fintech bank account. Its modern and dependable image tailors to those who prioritise function and control over their finances above all else. It’s 24/7 UK based customer support helps it to really stand out against its rivals.

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Best Digital Bank

Lots of features, no monthly fees and fee-free cash withdrawals and spending abroad make Starling Bank our top pick for digital banks.
PRA & FCA regulated. FSCS protection.

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