Starling: The first ‘proper’ digital challenger bank account is here

By Oliver Smith 16 March 2017

After years in development, the first real alternative to your bank is here.

This morning Starling Bank, a digital challenger bank, launched in beta, boasting a full current account that you can switch to today.

As Starling has only just launched to a select few beta testers, few details are known, but early reports suggest the app matches, or even surpasses, what’s offered by rival Monzo.

With all the excitement around Monzo in the last year, you might not have realised that the company doesn’t actually offer a ‘full’ current account yet.

Starling boasts advanced spending analysis, à la Monzo.

Overtaking Monzo

Instead Monzo users – or Monzonauts as the company affectionately calls them – use pre-paid bank cards that have to be topped up and which lack basic abilities like paying a direct debit.

That’s because Monzo is still in beta and its full current account isn’t due until later this year – leaving many eager digital banking fans frustrated, for now.

Read more: Monzo just failed – way better than your old bank ever could

But now Starling has arrived, offering a full current account and more.

As well as viewing all your transactions in real-time (à la Monzo), Starling users are able to set up regular payments (direct debits) and make one-off payments including the ‘Faster Payments’ we’ve all become accustomed to with traditional banks.

The app also analyses your spending to give you a better idea of where your hard-earned cash is going.

Read more: With high street banks in IT meltdown, challenger bank Starling raises $70m

Biometric banking

Early users also report signs of Starling embracing advanced biometric security, beyond the basic fingerprint Touch ID of Monzo.

“In addition to being asked to provide a 6-10 digit passcode, you are asked to record a short video message of you reading out a specific phrase,” wrote TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear.

“This, the startup tells me, is then used for the purpose of ‘biometric identification’ in case you find yourself locked out of the app.”

But as this is a full current account, there are a few more hoops to jump through over and above Monzo’s fairly simple sign-up experience.

Read more: Are you ready for Britain’s challenger banks?

Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden
Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden

Jumping through hoops

Once you’ve got an invite to the Starling beta app the first thing you’ll have to do is photograph your passport or driving license via the app, before you’re issued a Starling debit card.

It’s an important hoop though, as once you’ve joined Starling’s accounts are as real as those of Halifax or Barclays, albeit an account still in beta.

CEO and founder Anne Boden gave little away this morning at the launch of Starling’s public beta, saying:

“Our vision at Starling is to give everyone in the world the opportunity to enjoy a healthy financial life. Today is another step on that journey.”

For all its fancy biometric features and spending analysis, today Starling’s biggest and best feature above Monzo is that it’s a full current account that you can use today.

That’s a pretty good reason to sign up to the beta waiting list.