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Starling Bank launches beta app and partners with TransferWise

It got its banking licence last summer, but UK digital-only challenger Starling Bank has now released the beta version of its mobile banking app to people on the waiting list.

A small group of testers close to the brand enjoyed trying out the contactless cards last year. Now, a wider group of users (on iOS) will be able to use, test and feed back on the core features of the Starling current account via the app, including opening the account, making payments and setting up regular payments. The bank will be improving the app and adding new features ‘over the next few months’, according to CEO Anne Boden.

Android users will be able to test a version by the end of this month, and all customers will receive a contactless MasterCard debit card for UK and international use. Digital wallet synchronisation (e.g. Apple and Android Pay) will follow in due course.

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Before opening its digital doors on 16 March, Starling Bank announced a partnership with TransferWise to provide international money transfer services to customers. It has also promoted voice banking, showing off its API integration with a Google Home device.

Opening an account

Starling offers fully digital onboarding via ID scanning. Setting up an account through the app involves photographing your passport or driving licence to confirm your identity.

Understand your finances

The Starling Bank app lets you view and manage your financial status in real time, with push notifications deployed for each transaction, and a home screen feed called the Starling Pulse with all account activity displayed. Each transaction has date, time and more detail provided. Plans for the future revolve around enhancing this PFM functionality, with the ability to set budgets and savings goals, and get additional spending insights.

Security

Users are asked to set up a 6-10 digit passcode, and record a video message of you reading out a phrase. This is for biometric authentication purposes – but only as a backup, it would seem. All account settings can be managed in the app, including setting and accessing PIN data, and blocking and unblocking the card.

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Customer service

Starling offers live chat functionality within the app, as well as the ability to message or call an advisor for help and support. While it’s not yet available to the public, Starling’s API integration with Google Home (also not available in the UK) could allow Starling customers to check their balance, ask about spending for specific periods of time, and pay friends and bills.

Making payments

Starling Bank was the first challenger to join the Faster Payments scheme, back in January, so customers can see where their money is going in real-time, 24 hours a day. Qualifying customers receive an overdraft facility, and handily can control the overdraft amount and other settings within the app.

Who’s the fairest of them all?

Comparisons with Monzo are inevitable, and Boden hasn’t shied away from making bold statements against the challenger rival. Back in August 2016 when Mondo rebranded as Monzo, it was Boden who playfully registered the domain name ‘getmonzo.co.uk’ and used the site to promote Starling. Monzo CEO Blomfield worked briefly with Boden at Starling Bank but left due to ‘tensions’… tensions that seemingly still exist.

Monzo’s full current account isn’t due to launch until later this year, and while the app is packed with useful PFM features and nice design touches, it’s still just a prepaid debit card that has to be topped up.

Boden told TechCrunch: ‘We decided to go straight to build the full current account rather than go on a side trip to build a pre-paid card first… We wanted to put all our energies and creativity into producing something that provides all the services you need, not just a card.’

Aggregation station

Like Monzo, Starling is going after the ‘one-stop-shop’ position in your mobile banking life. By eventually offering a financial ‘marketplace’, where additional products from other fintech startups can live, thanks to an API, they aim to become a hub where users connect all their financial information in one place. ‘There’s an ecosystem out there of innovative and creative fintech organizations. We are going to be the center of that ecosystem, linking customers to the right products from the right partners,’ said Boden.

Aggregation like this will not only (ideally) offer customers a holistic view of their financial health, it gives the hubs in question a chance to cross-sell new products in a smarter way than ever before – using broad data about the customer’s behaviour and spending/saving/borrowing habits.

For Starling, the partnership with TransferWise (who also supports N26 in Germany) is sure to be the first of many, with mortgages, loans and other financial products likely to be promoted in the app’s ‘marketplace.’

For now, though, how does Starling Bank plan to make money? ‘We’ll take in deposits and lend out a portion as overdrafts,’ Boden says. ‘We’re not going to punish you for going overdrawn. It’s all about being transparent and fair.’

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