Starling Bank V Monzo: The Similarities
In this blog, I will look at some differences (and similarities) between the two largest digital banks and “challenger banks” in the UK. Monzo and Starling.
I’ll tell you the truth ….. My purchases are usually made with my American Express Gold, BA or my Barclarycard “points/cashback credit card.” I have no idea how anyone can resist doing this. It is the easiest way to get free stuff, as long as you pay the card off each month.
Starling and Monzo both have features that are geared toward daily use. You can see where your money goes by analysing your spending, displaying your future balances and generally having more transparency.
These features can be life-saving if you have trouble keeping track of your finances. Personal, I have always kept a close eye on my finances, so that I know exactly where all of the money is going and where to cut back.
This mini-review/comparison will not solely focus upon the features (as I do not use them all). Instead, I will focus on the communities surrounding both banks, the company, and my own personal experience using both.
This is my personal experience. I encourage you to open a free account at both banks so that you can decide for yourself.
Mondo becomes Monzo
I joined Monzo in 2016, back when the company was called Mondo. They had to change the name after a trademark dispute. I was surprised at how slack they were with a matter as important as their name. How had it not been brought up earlier? I understand that things like this can happen.
It was a bad feeling. The good feeling came from how they handled the situation. Monzo has a theme that they are always returning to. The community was asked for suggestions. (With a few restrictions, such as it must begin with the letter “M” to maintain their brand.) Monzo was chosen after 12,000 suggestions.
Monzo, back then, was a prepaid card that focused on international money transfers and heavily on foreign spending (something which would later bite them in their bum).
I only used it sporadically to test it. I love technology and trying new things. I thought Monzo could revolutionise the whole digital banking offerings of banks in the UK.
But I did not use it enough to have a strong opinion. Since I use my AMEX card for most purchases, and didn’t want to load a large amount of money on a pre-paid card, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it.
The Current Account is Born
Monzo launched its fully-fledged current account at the end of 2017. My pre-paid card (which I had not used in over a year) would stop working, and I would need to upgrade for free to the current account. The upgrade was easy, and I did it just for fun.
Around this time, I joined the Monzo Community Forum.
The feeling I get when I visit this forum is hard to describe. It’s a great resource with many people interested in FinTech and providing valuable insight into Monzo and other services.
Monzo has many investors (Monzo raised funding through crowdsourcing in early 2017 so many people would benefit financially if Monzo performed as well as everyone hoped).
This led to the forum becoming too narrow-minded. Simple issues are not challenged, mistakes are quickly forgotten, and criticisms are quickly shut down.
It’s not as balanced as I would like, but I may have expected too much since in the Monzo forum.
Another negative is the threads about Monzo. New users join and will post that Monzo is the best thing since slice bread was released, while others will add more anecdotes on how Monzo can save the world.
Starling was one of the other first accounts I opened. It’s a bit painful sometimes. Starling is not well-liked on the Monzo forums. Many users are vocal about their dislike.
Starling was the account I chose to open after feeling a bit disconnected with Monzo and wanting to try out something new, especially because I was thinking about starting a business.
Starling – The next step
It was just as simple to open the account as Monzo. A few photos of my ID and a short video in which I said “I want an account” or words to that effect, and it was done.
Understandably, you might wonder why I bother to have these accounts if I’m not going to use them for my daily expenses atm withdrawals. No simple answer is available, but I prefer to bank on the move, and the older banks’ mobile apps are very bad.
Additionally, since the 2010 recession, I always think “what if a bank disappears of the high street”, how will I be protected under the financial services compensation scheme.
These banks also appeal to me because they are a good example of new technology.
Starling has been a good experience for me. The card was delivered promptly and there were no problems. Also, the Starling Forum online wasn’t bad.
Being a part of a community online has always been a pleasure. Talking with people who have similar interests is fascinating. The Starling forum had a lack of users. It was quieter and the Starling staff weren’t as active.
Starling, at this stage, always had an edge over Monzo in terms of being a current account. Starling had opened their accounts long before Monzo. They also had ApplePay, which was a major issue for Monzo users.
I was happy to switch my mind from Monzo Starling and although I would encourage people to try them both, I wanted to almost back the right bank in my head …..
I won’t go over the features of Starling, but I liked the payee management. (Monzo was terrible at this) And the fact that you could add your own photo to the “Goal”, a set of ring-fenced funds was an added bonus.
Starling was my first choice. I wanted to defend them in the Monzo forum and point out some of their suspect policies. Maybe I was just trying to convince me, or maybe I had secretly grown tired of the “sucky-up” comments and petty remarks from some people.
It didn’t accomplish much, and I was probably more of a problem than a solution. The Monzo forum cemented my opinion of the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
Keep up with Starling and Monzo
Around this time, I began to look at both forums actively and try to determine which bank was moving ahead.
Starling spent a lot time and energy launching its business account (something Monzo has shown little interest in) and their current personal account has remained pretty static.
On the other hand, Monzo released little updates daily – all of them focused on their current account. The Monzo forum was buzzing with excitement, but I didn’t care much about it.
As I said, I don’t care about anything that helps me analyse my spending and organise my bank account based on my expenditure.
What I need from a current-account is an easy method to pay people, (adding new payees), and a quick interface. the Starling account did it better so I was happy with my decision.
It worked flawlessly. I took Starling with me on a Lanzarote family vacation. I paid everything on my card, except for the Volcano. It’s nice to get instant notifications about how much money you have spent (in both PS or EUR), and the system “just works” – i had no complaints.
However….. Starling seemed to be covering up the cracks. Some forum posts dismissed issues and the responses from staff made it feel like a traditional bank rather than a company trying to change things.
Monzo, on the other hand is proud of their transparency (sometimes even to the point of being a bit too transparent), and the staff at the Monzo Forum have always been great communicators.
It’s funny, I’ve only had to deal with customer service representatives from different banks a few times in my life. None have really stood out, except for First Direct who are always very good.
Yet, somehow “customer support” is the most popular topic in both the Monzo forums and Starling forums. The in-app chats make it easy for people to contact the CS team.
Monzo’s customer service is praised by 95% of its users. I have tried it on several occasions and found it to be excellent. I had a GIF swap with one of them. It was an enjoyable experience.
Starling, on the other hand ….. The chat system is terrible and makes them seem more reserved. They have provided me with average customer service the few times I have contacted them. A quick look at their forum shows that I am not alone.
If you have been in business for 2 years and still feel that your Customer Service is poor ….., it may not be on your priority list.
They may have thought that a mobile app or a “new” way of banking would be sufficient. But the forum posts reveal otherwise. And it seems like people are having problems with customer service on a daily basis.
Monzo has also received some bad reviews, but I have never personally experienced this. With 5 times as many customers and only a fraction the number of reports of poor CS ……, I would say that they are doing well in this area.
Does the card actually work?
What if it’s obvious? It works ……, right?
Not exactly. It’s not as easy as you might think.
Starling and Monzo both issue Mastercard Debit Cards – the only difference is in who processes the transactions.
Starling uses a company named GPS (whom many other FinTech Banks use) – they are generally okay, but seem more prone to outages/issues than any other company I’ve encountered.
I never thought I would experience a debit card failure. It has only happened a few times, but it’s always been in the news. You expect it to function!
Monzo used GPS initially, but due to their continued failures, they built their own service to handle transactions.
Starling would have done the same if they could go back in time. They stuck with GPS and still have issues and outages that affect their entire client base.
One of these issues, which directly affected me, was the reason I gave Monzo a second chance.
I don’t use my debit card very often (the physical card). I do most of my shopping online or, if in-person, using ApplePay, my AMEX, or, as a final resort, my contactless debit card.
Northampton General Hospital wins the award for this one.
We went in together for a 20-week scan (gender scan! We had to purchase the photos in advance. The old card machine that was attached to the photobox only accepted chip and pin. As I entered my PIN and Starling card, …… was displayed. Incorrect PIN.
….. Nope ….. Incorrect PIN.
Hmm ….. I don’t think I knew my PIN. I can’t recall ever using it on my Starling Card (I checked my app later and found that I was actually using the correct PIN).
It was strange, but my Nationwide debit worked perfectly. I didn’t think much about it (wouldn’t you have been horrified if this had been the only card in my wallet? My wife would have been furious!
As I browsed the Starling forum that evening, I noticed that other people had experienced problems with their cards. No one is perfect and I am happy to give new businesses more leeway.
But what about the …… support? The forum didn’t mention anything, the in-app chat was clueless, and I felt a bit frustrated that I couldn’t get an answer.
The next day, a member of the Starling Team posted a statement online about the possibility that cards were not working. Nothing concrete was said and no solution was found.
This ….. was astonishing. I wasn’t the only one who had this problem. Other people also experienced the same thing, and the response times were terrible.
The main problem was GPS (the processor of the card that Monzo has moved away from), however, Starling’s support only made the situation worse.
It all started here!
After the Starling support shambles, I decided to give Monzo more attention – and I will reiterate, this isn’t an awfully lot of attention compared to other users.
Then I would make sure to send bank transfers to premium account, use the card only as a last option, and pay the Amex with money transfers to it.
Could it be my daily my bank transfer account instead?
Pros and cons
The large community of users and the interactive staff means that problems are resolved quickly.
I have never seen a forum with so many people who are willing to help.
* The app is “lighter” than other banking apps and has a better responsiveness.
* The speed of development since they discontinued their pre-paid card is phenomenal.
* Integration with IFTTT could lead to future features that would be otherwise impossible.
* In-house card processor.
They try to build popular features by taking note of what the users want.
The customer service is outstanding.
The forum can feel hostile – with a few users who make it seem more like a cult than a bank.
* Payees’ management and interface is not good (supposed to be improving).
Some have questioned if the bank is more typical than it would like you to believe.
Monzo does not allow you to upload any profile pictures, but allows you to upload any image.
* The market is growing very slowly.
Monzo is currently struggling to make money. The main source of income is through overdrafts, which goes against the goals that the company has set out to achieve.
Monzo made two mistakes: the name and the policy on overseas transfer fees (which was changed because of abuse, the unexpected number users who signed up, and the costs Monzo incurred).
Feel like you are in a bank, which can sometimes be reassuring.
* They are always the first to introduce their products: Current Accounts (current, a joint account, business), Business Accounts.
The Monzo Forum is not a good resource. There are too many “off-topic” threads and finding answers is difficult.
* The “banking side” of things is much better. Payee Management is excellent (custom photos per payees, multiple accounts for each payee, improved interface).
Starling’s business banking services bring in revenue monthly fees, which allows them to offer free withdrawals overseas, interest on savings and fee-free withdrawals.
* Customer service can be average or poor.
* This card is too complicated to use as a daily one. I would worry if this was my only card.
* The actual development of the current account has been very poor as the focus has been more on business accounts and joint accounts.
They can feel like they are in a bank, …… This is both reassuring and unsettling at times.
* Because they are digital bank don’t offer any other features, I worry that a traditional bank will swallow them with a digital offering very similar to theirs.
Starling Vs Monzo: Are Challenger Banks Safe?
Yes. Both Starling and Monzo are UK-registered banks. This means customers are protected up to the value of £85,000 and £170,000 for Joint accounts.
Which brand offers better exchange rates?
Both Starling and Monzo are free to use abroad. They both use the Mastercard exchange rate so you can be at peace if you make a transaction using your card abroad or online payments whilst in a foreign country.
The only key difference between Starling and Monzo is the rules for ATM withdrawals. I learnt this recently when I went to the Amalfi coast in Italy. While I was out there, I got a notification on my Monzo that I was close to my limit of ATM withdrawals.
Monzo allows free cash withdrawals – up to a certain limit and then charges you a 3% transaction fee – in the European Economic Area, while Starling does not charge you no matter how frequently you use your card.
Goals and Pots
Monzo is a good option if you want to earn interest from your savings. It has connections with companies that offer these savings accounts. Choose between an easy-access savings account or a fixed account to earn interest up to 3.90%.
Starling Bank allows you to save money in separate pots. Starling current account holders can save their money into a 1 year fixed rate saver and earn interest of 3.25% on balances above £2,000. Starling Bank offers a 0.05% interest rate on your entire account balance.
Starling vs Monzo – Lending
Monzo and Starling offer overdrafts for personal bank accounts, but neither offer them on joint accounts. Monzo allows account holders to apply for overdrafts up to a value of PS2,000 and Starling Bank up to a maximum of £5,000. Starling Bank says that after three months, it will consider increasing your overdraft amount above £5,000.
This will depend on how much you can afford to repay based on your monthly income.
Starling Bank currently does not offer personal loans, but business account holders may apply for an overdraft or a loan.
Monzo doesn’t offer business loans, but you can apply for a personal loan of up to £25,000.
Recently, in 2022, Monzo launched its ‘Monzo Flex’, Buy Now, Pay Later. This allows users to spread out the cost of their payment over three, six or twelve months. If you choose 3 months, it is interest-free on purchases. But, if you choose 6 or 12 months this will attract an interest rate.
Starling vs Monzo: Customer Service Reviews Online
Starling Bank received a Trustpilot score of 4.3 stars out of 5 from more than 33,000 reviews. Starling is rated ‘Excellent by 75% of its customers, who cite it as easy to use and great for spending abroad.
It has been rated ‘Bad” by 10% of customers, with many citing problems in sending money overseas and opening an account.
Monzo received a Trustpilot score of 4.4 stars out of 5 from more than 24,000 reviews. Monzo has been rated ‘Excellent by 80% of its customers. They have commented on the great design of the app, excellent customer service and ease of use abroad.
Customers commented on the difficulties with account reviews and payments. 11% of customers rated it ‘Bad.’
Starling is the best bank for my euro account needs especially because of the unlimited free atm withdrawals. Monzo is now my preferred bank due to not having the technical issues I experienced on my personal Starling account, which ranged from recent outages, poor customer service, and the stagnant development of the current account.
Both are not perfect. However, if I were to use my current account as a daily spending account and for my direct debits, I would be extremely happy with my Monzo account.
I think that Monzo has a very strong user base; they are willing to integrate with their customers and have come a long way in a comparatively short time.
If I was to choose one and say goodbye to high street banks, it would be Monzo although Starling is still pretty good. If you have any questions or comments, please let us know below.