Starling - exercise caution if you are thinking about switching

This article reflects the viewpoint of those who wrote it, nobody else. Its publication at FintechTalk is not intended to be presented as the viewpoint of the community’s membership - community members have their own viewpoints and are free to share and debate them, as always.

TLDR:
If you are thinking about switching to Starling - please be careful. Things are great when they work, but things can fall apart very quickly when something goes wrong and particularly when you need to contact them.

Their customer services machine seems to be too target-driven, often unwilling to even attempt to understand an issue, totally lacking in empathy, and most depressingly has, on occasion, demonstrated a somewhat abstract understanding of the concept of ‘truth’.

Starling wants to be your ‘all in’ bank - they want your monthly salary, your shopping transactions, your direct debits… but anecdotal evidence from this community’s users suggest that this might not be a service that all users can rely upon in all situations.

Your mileage may vary, but as the proprietor of this site, I must advice you exercise caution before you put all your eggs in this particular basket - in fact, such a move could be considered to be reckless.

The long read: An editorial view by the proprietors of Fintech Talk :ft:

I know a great number of people find our community when they are attempting to navigate the fintech marketplace, investigating alternatives to their high street bank, and considering making the switch to full-time banking with fintech.

Fintechs have re-invigorated the whole UK banking experience with their fully-featured apps, user-oriented user interfaces, and innovative features that until recently were absent from your old high-street bank (hello, instant notifications!)

The platforms they rely upon are modern, fast, and highly adaptable, underpinning the whole operation as millions of UK consumers have taken the plunge.

But banks, even fintech banks, have to be more than the sum of a few Amazon Web Services instances. The engine that really makes these giant banking machines tick is the people who build it and operate within it.

People bring with them a culture that shapes the organisation for which they work. Because of a number of recent posts in our community - as well as a bitter personal experience - I am now of the opinion that huge cracks are starting to appear in the human foundations of Starling Bank and its fluffy, but empty words about ‘listening’ and ‘ethics’.

Banks need to be fair-minded, dependable, approachable, transparent in their decision making and - above all - honest.

Sadly, as Starling has begun to scale-up from spritely start-up to mass-market fintech giant, they appear to be experiencing a number of growing pains and experiencing a somewhat disappointing cultural shift.

Compared with the Starling that was a key player in defining the UK fintech landscape, the current bank seems less customer-focused and more algorithm-driven. This is a huge problem, given that Starling’s algorithms tend to be a bit on the janky side.

The Starling that was created out of founder Anne Boden’s claim that ‘banking is broken’ and that there was another way to do things is dying. In 2021 it is apparent that ‘Starling is Broken’.

I am not sure whether the desire exists within the leadership to rectify what has gone awry with Starling, or whether the simple fact is that once you go looking for huge capital injections, all resources now must go into growth at all cost - even if that means becoming a carbon copy of those broken old banks that Starling was adamant it was not one of.

There are cracks appearing throughout the offer.

There is a tendency to trot out new ‘value-added’ (read: chargeable) features without having considered whether they actually add much value or whether they’re worth the asking price. A case in point is the new, much-touted availability of ‘second accounts’, yours for a mere £24 per year, something that your traditional bank will have been offering since forever, and without charging you for the privilege.

Then there’s the constant tinkering with the look and feel of their app. One day there’s a sensible menu structure, the next there are several menus with varying degrees of usability. The text gets smaller on a whim and they seem to love pale coloured text on white backgrounds. Progress this is not.

But this single biggest factor that is causing damage to Starling’s reputation as the one fintech bank that was supposed to be most capable of replacing your old bank is what happens when you need to talk to them. Customer service… simply put, there isn’t any.

Their customer services machine seems to be too target-driven, often unwilling to even attempt to understand an issue, totally lacking in empathy, and most depressingly has, on occasion, demonstrated a somewhat abstract understanding of the concept of ‘truth’.

When things are working, you won’t notice. But good luck to you when something goes wrong or you have an issue that requires looking at by a human - because humanity is something that Starling increasingly struggles to provide.

To be frank, you’re lucky to get a response from them at times and those are the fortunate ones. When you get responses it’s a lottery as to whether the agent has read your query before cutting and pasting in an identikit reply or worse, they’ll just flat out refuse to help - hiding behind terms and conditions to assert that they don’t have to fix what’s broken.

I have seen multiple tickets unceremoniously closed without response. If you are in the live chat, some have reported waiting hours for each interaction from Starling, but if you do not respond within minutes they will mark your query as done and simply abandon you.

If you have a problem that requires doing something that their automation and algorithms cannot handle you can find yourself in a flaming pit of despair… and quickly.

Two obvious examples that spring to mind are the trigger-happy algorithm that Starling (reasonably) implemented to combat fraud at pay-at-the-pump petrol stations another is the systems that are in place the deploy and secure virtual debit cards in your Apple Pay and Google Pay mobile wallets.

In the case of the former - the algorithm was flat out poorly designed with a false positive rate that left far too many customers stuck unable to purchase fuel. When customers got in touch, they were routinely told that there is no problem and everything was working as designed.

Eventually, when shamed online, there was some acknowledgement that it was causing ‘a small number of people’ some difficulty, but no real desire to fix any shoddy code.

It was eventually rectified, but not until their CEO had been dragged in on a Saturday morning to calm down a full-scale revolt from customers who had the audacity to expect their debit cards to, you know… work!

Fast forward a couple of years and history is repeating with mobile wallets.

You’re fine until you get a new phone - but then it’s pot luck as to whether your card will ever work on your new device.

Again, the system is working as it’s supposed to, insist the boffins at EC2M and if you don’t like it, tough - the terms and conditions mean they don’t have to provide you with that feature you were using on your old device… so, suck it.

The single biggest ‘crime’ that is all too common from Starling’s customer-facing team, however, is what I feel is a clear desire to shut down a conversation without giving any explanation as to why a decision was taken or why a fault might have occurred.

Disgustingly, it would appear not to be at all uncommon that a customer service agent will say something that is not entirely aligned to the truth, in order that you move along out of their queue. Frequently this manifests itself as the assertion that ‘we cannot disclose’ why ‘thing’ happened.

Yes, there are a select few occasions when they actually can’t tell you something. These relate to tipping off potential criminals when something has been flagged up.

But Starling has been seen trot out this line all too frequently, and for a variety of ever more creative reasons - after all, it is an incredibly efficient way of evading any form of transparency of accountability. This wheeze has been reported recently by community members to hide or deflect attention from screw-ups over business loans and broken systems that set-up mobile wallets, as described above.

Whatever the reason - unless there is a reason rooted in law (i.e. anti-money-laundering, as per above)… it’s a choice not to tell you something and therefore your bank has just lied to you. Not cool.

You can complain… but the system seems geared up to frustrate, rather than help. Starling rarely accepts responsibility for a cock-up, take forever to get back to you and rarely seem to offer anything other than platitudes and a nice big dollop of patronising language on the side.

But the chances are they won’t even bother to read your complaint before they start replying to it. Plenty of the facts will simply be wrong and most of the stuff you complained about will be forgotten or glossed over.

To add insult to injury, they will immediately assert that their first response is their last response - they want nothing more to do with you and you should sod off - their assumption being that most have busy lives and do not have the time or will be intimidated by the prospect of going to the ombudsman.

Your average response is easier to express in visual form than it is in writing or voice. It’s nothing more than an extended middle finger.

But despite their inability to cope with pesky customers, Starling still desperately wants to be your ‘all in’ bank - the place where your monthly salary is deposited, your shopping transactions are debited from and your direct debits are paid from, but if the anecdotal evidence from this community’s membership is anything to go by, perhaps it might simply be foolhardy to place all your banking eggs in the Starling-branded basket.

I am not saying you shouldn’t touch Starling with a proverbial bargepole - but please treat them with care and don’t get caught short because you are stuck in their stalled machine.

As a previously happy customer, I sincerely hope that Starling can rediscover its mojo.

But until Starling rediscovers the joys of serving the customer instead of feeding the all-consuming algorithm, as the owner of Fintech Talk - which was created to celebrate fintech - I cannot, in good conscience, advocate for using Starling for anything other than an additional account for spending money.

Starling is simply not good enough to be a daily driver and I am not sure that its leadership care enough to fix it.

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I suppose if someone is looking at a fintech then what other options would we say are better?

I’ve had far better issues resolved with Starling than Monzo.

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The reported customer service issues concern me, though I’ve had no interaction with CS myself. I use Starling for my secondary (personal) account, and have to admin to wondering if I should consider moving - maybe one of the high street banks.

Just to add some balance, I’ve used Starling as my main bank account for almost three years. I haven’t had any major problems that required their attention, but I have contacted Starling support on a number of occasions. Apart from one or two times when I felt I was given stock answers, I’ve always been very happy with my support interactions. They’ve always been polite and courteous, and any question I’ve had has been answered.

I’ve recommended Starling to a number of friends and family and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again in the future.

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2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Objections to the editorial

Objectively, Starling has a problem!

As per my article. I am not saying don’t go there, I am saying go there with your eyes wide open and have a backup plan in case they stiff you.

The same applies to the points you raise about Monzo and Revolut - but Starling is the one that is trying to position itself as the sensible, grown up, and trustworthy face of fintech.

The jury is still out for me and my ongoing banking relationship with Starling. I have a business account with them, my personal account (opened on the first day they went live in May 2017), a Euro account, and a pay-for additional account. It’s nice to see it all under one roof, in one nice app.

However I would agree their CS is so devoid of the human touch. It’s sad to see how this has deteriorated so rapidly in such a few short years. While their products are good, a banking relationship is exactly that - a relationship. So it’s all fine when using the app, but they have become just so awful when you need a engage with a human. Which means customer services.

I just hope someone reads some of these messages, cares sufficiently, and has a long hard look at themselves in an effort to improve. Because their customer services really cannot get much worse.

agreed! Who writes this nonsense?

It doesn’t feel right that Starling is called out in this manner with a stickied post and a banner.

The lies and excuses about Apple Pay are embarrassing for a grown-up bank, but the general support levels & customer service are not lower than that offered by Revolut, Curve et al. - but visitors to this site will infer something different.

Starling have been pretty good for me - I had trouble switching with a manual switch nearly 4 years ago, but service (for a bank) has been as expected since then. They’ve been smart enough not to worry about large sums coming in and out of my account each month, and I’m happy to recommend them to friends. I would not advise even my enemies to rely upon Revolut!

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Why on earth dies this have to be partisan?

Banks are not political parties or football clubs, or Apple for that matter.

Filing a report on the failings of bank A is in no way an endorsement of bank B.

This was a report I have published about a bank. It’s truthful, and it reflects concerns I have about the deterioration of customer services at Starling.

The examples I cite are real.

This isn’t an article about Monzo or Revolut, it’s about Starling… Which is why it doesn’t reference those institutions.

Saying what about bank B’s problems is just a partisan tool to deflect attention from the failings of your ‘team’. It’s a bank - why the emotional affiliations?

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Discussion on the substance of my article continues below.

Discussion about the audacity I showed in criticising Starling without having the decency to give Monzo a good kick at the same time here: Objections to the editorial

Why are all criticisms about this thread being moved away from the thread? Perhaps we should rename this Liam’s fintech opinions?

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Are you still a Starling Bank customer Liam? or have you binned them?

I personally have no loyalty whatsoever to any bank. I’ve said it before, but if I were experiencing problems that caused me so much angst, I’d just bin them and move on. As things stand, I don’t and never will let Starling have my pension or my salary. I use the account as a secondary ‘everyday’’ personal spend account. If Starling don’t like that, then they can bin me if they want, as long as they give me my own money back, I couldn’t care less.

Because they’re off topic. This thread is about Starlings support issues, not your dislike for the author.

They’re moved to a place where people can feel free to have a go at me without the substance of the article spoiling the fun.

I even provided a link.

A post was merged into an existing topic: Objections to the editorial

Not yet. I’ll admit that laziness is a main factor in that.

Will be stuck with Starling for joint account as I’ll not persuade Jo to move unless they dick her around.

I just haven’t worked out who I want to move to yet.

Guess the default is NatWest, but… It’s NatWest. :thinking:

Indeed, this isn’t a partisan issue. Which is why it’s surprising that poor service from one particular bank would warrant a pinned and flagged post. This could also have been a normal post for everyone to respond to.

I haven’t had any bad experience with Starling, but I also have little interaction with customer service. I’m surprised to see that they have been wronging people on so many issues. It’s something I’ll keep in mind as indicating that they are not flawless and there are some possible traps if you require a highly responsive bank for your needs. But from personal experience I would still recommend them as a bank that gets most of the basics of fintech right.

EDIT: I want to second Topsy2’s recommendation below of Nationwide. I’ve been with them for nearly a decade and have always had great customer service. No fancy frills, but they do just work.

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Or you could go with RBS. I have to be honest, not had a single issue with RBS. I just think their App is a bit crap, stuff I’ve mentioned before and constantly complained about, random pictures of people on App opening, pointless and rather stupid, no dark mode, no cheque imaging. Otherwise I have no issues with them. Same again with Nationwide, rubbish App, but can’t really fault their service.

A post was merged into an existing topic: Objections to the editorial