In this comparison we will be weighing up the similarities and differences between these two UK-based challenger banks. Both companies provide fully licensed banking services, which we will run through, but we are mainly interested in the finer details of their international money transfer services.
A product of Ann Boden, former COO of Allied Irish Banks, Starling was founded in London in 2014. Designed to be a super convenient digital banking service accessible via mobile or desktop, Starling quickly gained popularity among the millennial demographic.
The biggest task facing all challenger banks is convincing customers to leave traditional banking behind for new online alternatives. In the UK, the Current Account Switch Service is a free-to-use service that helps consumers shift personal or business accounts between banks and building societies: Starling signed up to the CASS in 2017 and was the first ever digital bank to do so. Since then, the challenger bank has opened over 2 million bank accounts and received more than £500 million in funding, as well as winning numerous awards including the coveted title of Best British Bank at the British Bank Awards which was given to the company four years in a row; in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Around the same time that Starling began challenging the status quo, Revolut popped up on the scene. Driven by the idea of designing a travel card that provided cheap exchange rates, entrepreneurs Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko co-founded the company in 2015. Over the next few years, the Revolut prepaid travel card caught on, eventually developing into a fully licensed challenger bank. By 2019 the company had expanded across the European market, offering open banking to users around the EEA. As of 2021, Revolut has obtained over 12 million users, with services now including GBP, EUR and USD bank accounts, as well as debit cards, cryptocurrency and stock trading.
Having assessed the credentials of each brand, we will now turn our attention to understanding the cost, speed and global coverage of their international money transfer services.
Customers tend to opt for a service provider that can offer low transfer fees that do not encroach on the amount which reaches the recipient.
A standardised flat-fee of 0.4% of the transfer amount is applied to international remittances.
An additional delivery charge of £5.50 (or equivalent) is added when arranging a priority delivery via SWIFT transfer.
The cheaper option is a No Recall payment which incurs a tiny flat fee of £0.30 (or equivalent) but as the name suggests, this type of transfer cannot be cancelled or reversed.
Small fees are applied to all international money transfers but the size of the fee will depend on the type of Revolut membership: Standard, Plus, Premium or Metal.
Premium customers receive 1 fee-free global transfer every month, while Metal customers receive an unlimited service.
For standard international money transfers, Revolut customers will be charged 0.3% of the transfer amount, pegged to a minimum of £0.30 and a maximum of £9.00 (or equivalent).
For customers using the SWIFT option, a delivery charge of £5.00 will be applied to USD, GBP, EUR, and CHF transfers.
For all other supported currencies the fee is £9.00. Find out more here.
Other fees include:
Starling implements a far more straightforward fee structure compared to the multiple layers, terms and conditions of Revolut international money transfers.
The exchange rate displayed is not always accurate to the real mid-market rate used by banks when trading currencies. Therefore, it is important for customers to understand any profits a company may be making on exchange rate markups.
For overseas spending Starling offers transparent exchange rates provided by Mastercard®: these rates can be found using the Currency Converter Calculator.
When testing out the exchange rates available for Starling international money transfers, we discovered Starling applies a markup range of 0.003% – 0.13% which is very competitive and only a fraction above the mid-market rate.
Revolut’s strongest exchange rates are given to smaller size transfers in popular currencies including USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, NZD, CHF, JPY, SEK, HKD, NOK, SGD, DKK, PLN and CZK.
During the week, when the market is open, Revolut offerse to match the real mid-market rate, with zero exchange rate markups.
However, on the weekends, Revolut applies a spread of 1% to all currencies.This means that exchange rates displayed on a Thursday may well have changed by the time a customer goes to make the transfer on Saturday.
For this reason, Revolut advises customers to check the rate using their app before submitting payment.
As with the transfer fees, Starling Bank offers lower, more straightforward currency conversions for the majority of foreign exchange rates. The incredibly low profit margins applied to Starling currencies is far more than most other UK banks – who tend to apply profit margins between 2 – 4% – and are also more competitive than Revolut rates.
We will be reviewing the location coverage of both Starling and Revolut, to see which countries customers can send money to and receive money from when banking with each.
When it comes to location coverage, Starling customers can hold and manage funds in GBP currency only, and send money internationally to 38 countries, primarily within Europe.
Revolut allows customers to hold and manage 30 currencies, supporting international payments to more than 150 countries.
Revolut makes it easy to send money fast to hundreds of countries around the world. The most popular and frequently traded currencies are accounted for, so Revolut customers can send and receive funds in multiple currencies. Starling, meanwhile, does not live up to the same standards.
For some people, transfer speed is the most important factor of any international money transfer. In this section we will be identifying how quickly Starling and Revolut can move money across borders.
Compared to rival companies such as Wise and WorldRemit, who are able to process international transfers within the same day, Starling and Revolut simply are not up to par. However, out of the two, Starling offers slightly faster transfer speeds, although it is important to note that SEPA transfers are not processed outside of business hours.
Money transfer companies often support multiple transfer and payment options in a bid to ensure an all-inclusive service; but how do Starling and Revolut measure up?
Two types of international money transfers are available to Starling customers and these are as follows:
Bank transfers are the only payment option available for Starling customers.
Revolut transfer options include:
Payment options for Revolut users include:
Revolut supports multiple payment methods including cryptocurrencies which were introduced by the company in 2018. It is easy to make payments between existing Revolut accounts as well as recipients in another part of the world: Starling does not quite live up to the same standards just yet.
As two app-based challenger banks, reviewing user reviews posted online will provide insight into the overall experience customers can expect.
On the App Store, users have given Starling a remarkable 4.9 out of 5, an almost perfect rating. Over on the Google Play Store, Starling has been rated 4.6 out of 5, which is also a great score.
In the online reviews posted across the App Store, Google Play Store and Trustpilot, many customers praise Starling for its quick registration process, simple and easy to use interface, and excellent security protocols.
Negative feedback tends to refer to software issues rather than problems with the financial services.
Starling has been awarded various prizes from peers in the industry, including the coveted title of Best British Bank at the British Bank Awards in 2018, 19, 20 and 21.
Starling was also awarded the additional titles of Best Current Account Provider and Best Business Banking Provider in 2020.
By comparison, Revolut has been given 4.7 out of 5 by both customers on the App Store and Google Play Store. This is a respectable score that is higher than many other competitor app-based challenger banks.
Positive feedback posted online predominately refers to the quick and easy technology, convenient money transfer services, and useful functions and products.
As with Starling, the majority of negative feedback online refers to problems with the Revolut app, rather than the bank’s services: from log in issues to confusing updates.
Like Starling, Revolut has been honoured with a number of industry awards, including the accolade of Tech Company of the Year 2020 at the UK Tech Awards and Anti-fraud Solution of the Year at the FSTech Awards 2020.
This was a close call but Starling wins based on the slightly higher online ratings the challenger bank has been given. Plus, Starling has received many awards from peers in the FinTech world, which is a testament to their loyal and satisfied customer base.
Learning about each brand’s performance in these four crucial areas will indicate which company is a better bet for international money transfers.
Accessibility: Starling is exclusively available to UK customers and services are accessible in the English language only. Support is available 24/7 and can be accessed via the mobile app, live chat or direct message function, as well as via phone.
Ease of use: According to the near-perfect scores posted by users on the App Store and Google Play Store, the Starling Bank app is straightforward, intuitive, all-inclusive and instant. Some customers appear to take issue with some of the recent updates, but overall it has excellent online ratings.
Security: As a fully licensed bank, Starling guarantees FSCS protection of funds of up to £85,000. Security is taken seriously by Starling and this can be seen in the multiple layers of protocols across the mobile banking app: this includes video and biometric identification, 3D secure encryption, mandatory PIN codes and the ability to freeze or cancel your card at any time.
Transparency: Starling employs a clear pricing structure and there are no monthly fees for account holders, no ATM fees at home or abroad and very minimal transfer fees which are displayed throughout the process of moving funds from A to B.
Accessibility: With global coverage and services available in 24 different languages, Revolut makes it easy for customers in countries around the world to use their services. In addition to this, customer service is available 24/7 in-app or via phone.
Ease of use: Many users praise Revolut for its quick sign-up process and swift payment services. Revolut also makes it easy to trade cryptocurrencies and stocks.
Security: As well as possessing a European banking license and being authorised by the FCA, Revolut customers also benefit from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) which protects funds of up to £85,000 per account. The company also employs fingerprint identification, Sherlock anti-fraud system and customisable features to protect customers’ data.
Transparency: Revolut’s fee structure is complex as it differs for each country: this can be confusing when arranging transfers to remote countries in less commonly traded currencies.
Starling is ahead of the curve when it comes to these four areas, with superior security and design features putting the company slightly ahead of Revolut to bag the win.
Finally we take a look at any extra features, benefits or perks that are exclusively offered to Starling and Revolut customers.
Starling has more to offer customers by way of additional features, as the company continues to announce useful incentives that benefit personal and business customers.
Throughout this comparison Starling has come out on top in the majority of cases so this brand is the victorious winner of this challenger bank throwdown. Customer satisfaction is off the scale and Starling has been awarded many industry accolades as a result. Although the challenger bank is currently only available to customers in the UK, it offers low-cost fees and very competitive exchange rates for anyone making a cross-border transaction. Add to this the fact that overseas spending and ATM withdrawals are fee-free, and this provider is a fantastic option for anyone with international payment requirements. Payments are processed quickly and easily, and the mobile app’s intuitive, user-friendly interface is well liked by every demographic. To find out more about Starling, read our full review of the company. To compare this challenger bank to its competitors, head to our homepage to use our comparison engine.
April is a journalist and full-time content writer for MoneyTransfers.com. Over the last decade she has written for a number of different online and print publications. Having lived overseas in Canada and Vietnam, April hopes to see more of the world as soon as possible, with Japan at the top of her travel list. As a former expat, April has first-hand experience of managing finances from overseas. She enjoys writing about forex trends and the future of banking.