Digital-only challenger bank Starling offers a business account to small UK businesses which are limited companies. There is no monthly account fee, and our comprehensive review takes you through the sign-up process, the features on offer and the other services you can pay to add on to the account.
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How does the Starling business account work and what are its main features?
Like many other challenger banks, Starling offers a banking experience that is pretty different to traditional banks. We have even featured this account as one of our best business bank accounts for online banking. Here’s an overview of the features you can expect with a Starling business account and how you can get started:
- Quick application. Download the app on your smartphone. After entering some personal details, you take a photo of an accepted ID and film a short video of yourself. With a business account, Starling runs a few quick credit checks too, but the whole application process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.
- Debit card. You’ll be issued with a contactless Mastercard debit card, which should take between 3-5 days to arrive. However, you can start using Starling straight away through Google Pay or Apply Pay.
- No fees. There is no monthly account fee, and Starling won’t make charges on electronic payments, domestic transfers or ATM withdrawals in the UK and abroad.
- 24/7 support. You can speak with a human adviser (not a robot) at all hours of the day. Contact them through the app, over the phone or by email.
- Real-time info. There’s no waiting around for payments to show up. You even get notifications every time money enters or leaves your account.
- Spending insights. See your spending broken down into categories like utilities, travel or entertainment.
- CSV exports and integrations. Share transactions with your accountant or accounting software like Quickbooks, Xero and FreeAgent.
How can I pay cash and cheques into a Starling business account?
You can pay cash into your Starling business account via a Post Office branch. There’s a 0.3% charge (with a minimum fee of £3) for each deposit. Starling says that you can deposit a maximum of £20,000 per transaction, with no more than £250 in coins. But as some smaller Post Office branches may have a lower cash limit, if you’re planning to pay in more than £2,000, Starling says it’s best to check ahead with the individual branch.
Cheques can be deposited free of charge and this can be done via the Starling banking app if the value is less than £500. All you need to do is take a clear photo of the the cheque with your phone and you’ll get a push notification when the funds have cleared (normally two working days afterwards).
If you need to deposit a large number of cheques you can send them off to the bank’s office in an envelope address to ‘Freepost STARLING’ (no stamp required). Make sure to put your surname and eight-digit Starling account number on the back of each cheque.
What documents do I need to open a Starling business account?
Firstly you’ll need to have the Starling mobile banking app. You can download this from the Google Play store or Apple Store (or you may already have it if you’re a personal account customer). You’ll then be given the option in the app to apply for a business account (you must be a limited company to open this type of account – if you’re a sole trader there is a specific sole trader account available with Starling).
After entering some personal details, you take a photo of an accepted form of ID – a passport, EU/EEA ID card, UK residence card or UK photo driving licence – and film a short video of yourself.
With a business account, Starling runs some quick credit checks too, and it may also ask to see documents such as invoices, existing bank statements, accountant’s letters, signed contracts, qualifications and payslips.
If you have all your documentation ready, the application itself can take as little as 10 minutes. Starling says that once the application process is complete, 93% of its new business banking customers will get their account number on the same day and will be able to start making payments into the account.
Who can open a Starling business account?
Starling is designed primarily for UK banking customers. But it will accept business account applications from people who have an overseas telephone number in particular countries, such as most of Europe and the USA. You’ll also need a form of ID that we outlined above (a passport, EU/EEA ID card, UK residence card or UK photo driving licence).
However, remember that to open a Starling business account, you’ll need to be an owner of a limited company which is registered at Companies House in the UK. And any “person of significant control” (usually someone with at least 25% of control or shares in that company) must be a UK resident.
Starling will also conduct a soft credit check when you apply, so this business account may not be suitable if you have a very poor credit history.
What debit card do I get with a Starling business account and what are its features?
The Starling business account comes with a contactless Mastercard debit card, which is a dark navy colour. Unusually, it’s a vertical bank card, rather than a traditional horizontal payment card that we’re used to seeing.
It’s free to take out money at ATMs both in the UK and abroad using this card. Plus you won’t be charged a fee for using the card to make a purchase when overseas. All those with access to the business account can order their own debit card (for example, if your limited company is owned by two people who both use the account). Each card which will be issued in the individual’s name and the company name, and is sent to each person’s residential address in around 3-5 working days.
If you mislay the debit card, it can also be frozen (and unfrozen) from the app or online. There are other digital card management features available too. You can get a PIN reminder, cancel and order a new card (if it is lost), and view your transaction and ATM withdrawal limits. You can even block certain transactions, such as those on gambling websites, or stop money being taken out of an ATM. You can also add you card to the mobile payment wallets for Apply Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, as well as wearables like a Fitbit and compatible Garmin devices.
What are the features of the Starling business account app?
The Starling business account can be accessed online via a computer by using its desktop interface. However, the mobile banking app is where you can take full advantage of the main features, and where the account management functions are focused.
As we’ve discussed elsewhere in this guide, it’s possible to do a huge range of things in the app, ranging from opening the actual account itself or ordering a replacement card, to seeing who has paid one of your invoices and where you’ve spent the most this month.
The app works on Android and Apple devices (including iPads), and these are the main sections:
- Payments. Send money, create invoices, and view direct debits and standing orders.
- Spending. See a breakdown of your spending grouped by category or by merchant.
- Home. Get an instant overview (or “Pulse”) of what you have spent that day or over the month.
- Card. Where you can freeze/unfreeze your bank card, order a new one, set payment limits or get a PIN reminder.
- Spaces. Get an overview of your loans and “Goals”, where you’ve set money aside for things like your VAT bill or training budget.
Can I apply for a loan or overdraft with a Starling business account?
Normally you would be able to apply for a loan or overdraft with a Starling business account, however the bank has confirmed that it’s not taking new applications for either of these at the moment. Starling says this is because it’s currently focusing on delivering Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans and Bounce Back Loans, as part of the government-backed initiative to support businesses adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bounce Back Loans are government-backed loans ranging from £2,000 to £50,000 (up to a maximum of 25% of your company’s annual turnover) and come with a fixed rate of interest of 2.5%. The scheme is open until 31 March 2021, and to be eligible for such a loan from Starling, you must be a Starling business account holder who uses it as your primary account for everyday business banking. As demand for Bounce Back Loans is so high, Starlings says it’s prioritising limited companies who already have an established business – typically those with a track record of at least 18 months.
What is the Starling Business Toolkit?
Starling’s business account is free to set up and use, but the challenger bank rolled out a new subscription service in July 2020 called the Business Toolkit. This can be added onto a standard business account for a fee of £7 a month, but you’re under no obligation to sign up.
The features of the Business Toolkit include: creating, sending and tracking invoices; automating expenses; recording VAT and connecting to HMRC to submit VAT returns; and uploading bills and scheduling payments to manage cash flow.
What integrations are on offer with a Starling business account?
You will have access to something called the “Starling Marketplace”, where you can link your business account to products ranging from insurance to legal support. (It’s worth pointing out here that although the integration aspect is free, there may still be charges that come with the individual services you choose to sign up to in the Marketplace.)
You can also use the Marketplace to connect your Starling business account to popular accountancy software such as QuickBooks, Xero and FreeAgent. You will need a separate subscription to operate those services, but you’ll be able to get a live feed of data from your business account to the software.
If you’re specifically after accountancy tools, there is also the option of the Starling Business Toolkit (which we outlined above). This costs £7 a month and is an add-on service for your business account that is offered by Starling itself, and it helps you do your bookkeeping and calculate VAT.
If you don’t want to pay for either an external accounting software package or the Starling Business Toolkit, you can always export your bank statements to a PDF or CSV file, so either you or your accountant can see or work with the figures separately.
Can I get a Starling business account in other currencies?
Yes, you can. Once you’ve opened a regular UK business account with Starling, you then have the option of opening a euro account and/or a US dollar account to run alongside it. These are the details:
Customers can transfer money between their GBP, EUR and USD business accounts 24/7. You’ll get the current exchange rate, with a 0.4% conversion fee from Starling added on top. You’ll always see the exchange rate before the conversion is made, so if you’re looking to make a transfer on the weekend, you have the option to wait until Monday morning.
Using a Starling business account for international payments
If you’re abroad, you can use your Starling business debit card to make purchases or withdraw money from ATMs for free.
But the Starling business account itself can only hold a balance in pounds and receive money in pounds. So if you’re being paid by a company abroad they will need to pay you in pounds (which might involve a fee at their end), and if you are transferring money to a bank account overseas there will also be a charge.
This is one of the reasons why the separate euro and US dollar business accounts are being offered as an option by Starling. They too can only hold money in their home currency (so euros and US dollars respectively), but if you’re doing lots of business in Europe or the US, you can send and receive payments in those currencies freely.
As explained above, these accounts do come with a monthly fee, but you can choose to open and run them alongside your standard Starling business account. You can also transfer money between all three, which involves a 0.4% currency commission from Starling.
Is the Starling business account right for my company?
As mentioned already, you can only apply for a Starling business account if you’re an individual owner of a limited company, or have significant control as one of the multiple owners of a limited company. The Starling business account is particularly suitable for smaller or medium businesses, as it’s free, flexible and quick to set up.
Symmie Swil, Head of SME Banking at Starling Bank: “We make it really quick and simple to sign up, and it’s free, so people can try us. The app itself is easy to use… and we’ve got 24/7 UK-based customer service, which means that if you do have any questions you always have someone at the end of a phone, or a chat or a message who is able to help.”
Starling business account fees and features
Doing business overseas with the Starling business account
|Product Name||Starling Business Account|
|International transfer charge||International transfers have a £0.3-5.5 fee|
Is the Starling business account safe?
As Starling is a licensed bank, it is PRA and FCA regulated. Your business account would also covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), so you would be protected for up to £85,000 if the financial institution went bust.
You might also be wondering about how safe the actual app is. Starling has a number of security features to ensure your money is safe from fraudsters:
- Your finances are secured behind a passcode and password, and completing your registration requires video and photo ID.
- If you ever lose your card, you can immediately deactivate it with a push of a button, plus the customer service team is there whenever it’s needed.
- A live record of your transactions and home screen notifications means you are alerted to any strange payments immediately.
Starling customer reviews
In the 2021 Finder Customer Satisfaction Awards, Starling topped the business banking category. The Starling business account received 5 out of 5 stars from customers in our survey, and 97% of its users said they would recommend the provider. Customers particularly praised the easy-to-use app and low business banking charges. Here’s what some of the customers in our survey said about their Starling business account:
“Instant transfers, immediate notifications and an easy-to-use on app”
“Very good brand and never had any issues”
“I find Starling very easy to use and it makes sorting through my payments very quick”
“No fees and a very good mobile app”
Public app reviews for Starling relate to the bank as a whole, not its business account specifically. But Starling’s banking app in general has received very positive ratings, scoring 4.9 out of 5 in the App Store, based on almost 200,000 reviews, and 4.7 out of 5 in the Google Play Store, based on nearly 50,000 reviews (March 2021).
Pros and cons of the Starling business account
- An account up and running in about 10 minutes (providing you have the right documents).
- No joining or monthly fees.
- Works with Quickbooks, Xero and FreeAgent.
- Contactless card delivered within a week.
- Spending insights will help you manage your company’s finances. Every penny can be scrutinised.
- No spending or ATM fees abroad.
- Marketplace service gives you the option to connect to other business platforms.
- The “Goals” savings feature is available to businesses account holders.
- 24/7 customer service.
- Account can be managed through the app or online.
- Fully licensed by the FCA and PRA, and covered by the FSCS up to £85,000.
- The lack of branches might cause some communication problems.
- Not taking new applications for loans or overdrafts at the moment.
If you’ve made it to this point of the review, you might be wondering: a free business account? For real? Yes, it’s 100% true and, if you’re looking for a way to save money, the Starling Bank business account is hard to beat.
So, are there any catches? Not many, to be fair, but keep in mind that this is still a digital-only bank. You won’t be able to pop into a branch and speak to someone in person, which some consumers may prefer when it comes to business banking. Traditional banks are also able to offer a wider range of products (including, for example, business credit cards). But if those things are not a big deal for you, Starling’s business account is a solid choice.
Get started by visiting Starling's website and sign up for an account. If you have read this review and decided that Starling’s account is not for you, you can also compare other business bank accounts on the market.
It’s free, easy and quick to set up, you can choose between accessing it from the app or from a desktop, you can make payments abroad for free, you can link your accounting software and can even open a euro account. If you’re the owner of a small business, the Starling business account of the best available on the market and you should definitely consider it.
Frequently asked questions
- Financial Services Compensation Scheme
- Finder Business Banking Customer Satisfaction Awards 2021
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