Which is the best bank account for your startup business

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Richard Kacerek
Written by Richard Kacerek February 13, 2020 | 20 minutes read

Choosing the right bank account for a new startup business can seem like an overwhelming task. Fear not! We will help you make the right decision and find the correct business account for you and your startup business.

Let’s make a few things clear. You will need a separate bank account for your business, even if you are a starting entrepreneur. You are building a business, so you need to start with a registered limited company in the UK. So we are not looking at options for sole-traders.

Since you are a startup, let’s eliminate our selection further by only including challenger banks. High street banks don’t usually offer fast enough innovation and lack behind in terms of cost, features, speed of payments, customer service and user experience. If you have lived in the UK for some time, you will recognise the big four high street banks like Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and RBS. While these banks do have their range of business financial products, mobile apps and bank accounts, we chose to exclude them. We don’t feel they offer products aimed at entrepreneurs wanting to expand their business internationally or even globally. A simple task such as changing an address takes a lot of effort, and in most cases, you have to send a letter requesting the change and then hope someone will do it.

Choosing one of the new, challenger banks may look scary at first glance. How can you trust them? It’s a fair question, but a traditional high street bank does not necessarily offer a better deal or more security. All the new Fintech banks have to comply with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulations, and you are still protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). So in terms of customer protection, you have the same level of security as with a high street bank.

Challenger banks are fundamentally changing the banking industry and an image of what a bank should do and how it should work. More and more customers like it! Revolut managed to grow their user base to over 8 million, Monzo to more than 4 million and Starling bank is about to reach 2 million. And the users can’t get enough!

The banking industry is currently undergoing an earthquake, and traditional banks are trying everything to keep up. We have seen redesigns of their apps, open letters to CEOs of startups and slashing costs of services.

Traditional banks are reacting, startup challenger banks are innovating.

One of our clients said: “I use Starling Bank for personal use. I don’t want to know I spent £10 in Asda after three days of being there. I want to know NOW!”

And that goes for all transactions, domestic and international. Users want instant information, useful in-app notifications and more valuable features. They want to tell a bank what they want and how it should work. Starling Bank has added personal budgeting, spending insights and personalised categories.

As an entrepreneur building a startup, you probably have a lot in common with these banks. Fast-growing, problem-solving and industry-changing businesses that focus on one thing, the customer!

Empire Elements took the opportunity to talk to some hot London startups and interview them to see which banks are popular and how they measure up to a standard bank. We compared the features, fees and a few other aspects to offer comprehensive choice. No challenger banks have physical presence branches; you cannot just pop to a bank. However, there are Post Office branches that can add cash to your bank account (instantly and even on a Sunday when traditional banks are closed).

There are some things we’ve grown to like and consider normal. Fast payments, no delays, instant and useful notifications, a useful app on your phone and mostly digital approach with no cheques. Faster payments are now the new normal, result of an industry shift even banks like Natwest (our old bank) is now offering much faster payments and useful notifications. Funny, how all it takes is competition for standard banks to start paying attention and finally listen to us, the customers. A contactless card is also considered to be essential and a basic requirement along with much tighter, biometric security.

The most common questions we all ask are:

  • is my money safe
  • is it a ‘real’ bank
  • does FCA regulate the business

Monzo

Monzo monzo.com

Monzo offers current, joint and also business accounts plus a range of other financial services like savings and borrowing. Monzo is backed and funded by RBS. The company is offering app and integration with Xero and FreeAgent accounting software. At the time of writing, Monzo did not accept new business customers. It seems like Monzo is not quite ready with their offerings for businesses. Most of the features we’d come to expect are “coming soon”. It looks like Monzo has some growing up to do.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 3 million accounts
Banking license: yes
Revenue: loss-making

What we like:

  • MasterCard
  • nice-looking mobile app web access
  • integration with Xero and FreeAgent

What we don’t like:

  • only for UK residents and it’s not quite ready
  • no IBAN to receive international transfers
  • 3% fees for cash withdrawals abroad for more than £200/month
  • 0.35%-2.00% for international exchange fees
  • £1 to deposit cash, a maximum of £1,000 cash every six months

Tide

Tide
www.tide.co

Empire Elements had a business account with Tide so we can share our personal experience with you. Creating an account was easy, and the verification process was smooth. The mobile app, however, is a bit confusing to use and not as polished as we would like. Additionally, there is 6-8 weeks wait to get your IBAN and BIC numbers for international transfers. We especially like the web interface, which required no login. You simply scan a QR code via the app to log in to the web app. The same idea that WhatsApp uses to login to the web interface. Transaction notifications were swift, but no support for Apple Pay and Tide answered our enquiry saying “this feature is coming soon”. Tide business bank account also connects with Xero accounting software. Unfortunately, multiple director access did not work for us. If you have global ambitions and plan to grow your business globally and beyond £100K, then Tide is not a bank for you. Tide is not a bank. Tide was the fist contender we jumped on, but lack of progress in developing new features and fixing current bugs led us to switch to Starling business.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 130,000 business accounts
Banking license: no
Revenue: loss-making

What we like:

  • MasterCard
  • second director access and option to have a card
  • web interface
  • integration with Xero
  • no monthly or annual fees

What we don’t like:

  • no apple pay
  • no international transfers
  • bugs in-app
  • confusing app interface
  • MasterCard is a prepaid card which can cause issues with payments
  • maximum account balance: £100,000 (registered LTD)
  • no personal accounts
  • SWIFT transfers £5
  • transfers between accounts 20p/transaction
  • cash withdrawals and deposits are £1/transaction
  • cash deposits made at a PayPoint 3% of the sum

Starling Bank

Starling Bank
starlingbank.com

Yay! Our favourite horse in the race is Starling Bank. Starling was the first UK bank to launch an app-based current account for personal customers, and we started first with personal accounts. The app interface is fantastic. Starling added business bank accounts later on after many other competitors offered those but were worth the wait. The business account is now under the same app as your personal account, which has really amazing benefits. Oh yes, and now you can have a joint account with your partner as well. We like the rapid innovation of Starling Bank and that Anne Boden is paving the way for a new idea of what a bank should be. If you have not read her book The Money Revolution: Easy Ways to Manage Your Finances in a Digital World then you should!

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2014
Number of customers: 1 million accounts
Banking license: yes
Revenue: loss-making

What we like:

  • here is the kick, for personal accounts you earn interest on your money!
  • polished mobile app experience
  • categorised spending
  • handy app notifications like upcoming payments
  • international transfers and payments
  • IBAN and BIC out of the box
  • no monthly fees
  • business Euro account for £2/month
  • 24/7 support
  • cash deposit at any post office branch
  • even cheque deposits!
  • no fees overseas or hidden charges
  • personal loans, overdrafts
  • growing marketplace with financial services
  • one login for all your accounts (personal and business)

What we don’t like:

  • you guessed it; we don’t have many things we don’t like
  • for UK residents only but expanding to Europe
  • 15% on loans and overdraft

Monese

Monese
monese.com

Monese is an app-only, no branches challenger bank (like all the above). Initially launched by an entrepreneur from Estonia addressing a problem of foreign nationals being unable to open accounts in the UK due to lack of credit history and no permanent residency and address. Monese solved that problem by opening an account for anyone living in the European Union. Monese offers multi-currency accounts across Europe. You can open a Sterling account even if you don’t live in the UK. But to open a business account, your business does need to be registered in the UK. Monese makes it much easier for smaller entrepreneurs to do business across Europe.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 1 million
Banking license: No
Revenue: £5 million (2018)

What we like:

  • no hidden fees
  • free account
  • free euro account
  • apple pay
  • app in 24 languages
  • good currency conversion rates
  • paid monthly option has even more benefits
  • virtual card

What we don’t like:

  • you need to have a personal account first
  • only six free cash withdrawals a month
  • max balance £50K (£100K with Business Plus)
  • £9.95/month cost
  • 0.5% international transfer cost

Revolut

Revolut
revolut.com

Like many of the new challenger banks, Revolut started offering personal accounts first and then added business products later on. Revolut probably stands out in terms of international transfers and its ability to send money across 29 countries. Transferring money quickly across different currencies is what Revolut was designed for and what makes it very different from other providers. With 7 million customers across Europe and skyrocketing revenue, Revolut reached and holds the status of a tech unicorn company, valued at more than $1bn. Revolut supports 140 currencies and lets you keep money in 24 currencies in your account.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 7 million
Banking license: yes
Revenue: £33 million (2018)

What we like:

  • a lot of different options
  • prepaid and virtual cards
  • competitive exchange rates
  • basic free plan, or paid subscription plans
  • web login as well as the mobile app
  • hold currency in multiple currency accounts
  • you can set up auto-exchange

What we don’t like:

  • complex fees calculations
  • no cash deposits
  • cash withdrawals are charged

TransferWise

TransferWise
transferwise.com

Similar to Revolut, TransfeWise solves a problem of sending money across the world. TransferWise now supports 96 currencies around the globe and enables you to hold money in 16 currencies. TransferWise is competing with Revolut and offers a similar range of services, both now offer business accounts. Depending on which country you send money to, one or the other might be a better choice as the fees and processing times vary from country to country.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2011
Number of customers: 4 million
Banking license: yes
Revenue: £117 million (2018)

What we like:

  • contactless Mastercard
  • great app with Apple Pay support
  • free business account
  • batch payment tool
  • no minimum transfer limit
  • very low transfer fees
  • Transferwise doesn’t make money on exchange rates

What we don’t like:

  • no categorisation of spending
  • no cash deposits
  • trying to think what else to put on this list

Anna Money

Anna Money
anna.money

ANNA simply stands for Absolutely No-Nonsense Admin. A UK-based banking solution for small businesses, in a nutshell, it’s a packaged service including current account, invoicing and expense management. ANNA Money is currently only available in the UK for limited companies and sole-traders. ANNA only works for you if you’re okay with the meowing thing. Not much of a cat person? You may have to find an alternative. With only 6,000 users up to date, it looks like David against titans like Revolut that has 7 million users across Europe. But then ANNA launched in 2018, so it’s a very young but growing company.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2018
Number of customers: 6,000
Banking license: No
Revenue: No

What we like:

  • basic free account
  • easy to set up and use mobile app
  • a card that meows?
  • no fees for foreign currency from ATM
  • Mastercard wholesale exchange rates

What we don’t like:

  • running cost depends on your income
  • if you are not a cat person, meowing will be annoying
  • no international bank transfers

Mettle

Anna Money
mettle.co.uk

Mettle is another business banking startup offering easy-to-use business accounts. Focusing on sole-traders, freelancers and SMEs it provides a range of services, and it comes with Mastercard. Mettle is part of RBS, but it is a stand-alone unit, it is backed by Natwest. Mettle Banking boasts tasks, reminders, invoicing, expenses management and even exporting via a beautiful mobile app. Simple bookkeeping is something freelancers, and SMEs crave, Mettle focuses on this part well. Mettle is NatWest’s response to challengers like Starling and Revolut. Without FSCS protection and being in the testing phase shows that NatWest is not exactly fully committed.

Country of origin: London, UK
Established: 2018
Number of customers: unknown
Banking license: No
Revenue: No

What we like:

  • pretty much everything is free!
  • nice and easy to use mobile app
  • Mastercard
  • excellent way of organising expenses

What we don’t like:

  • some mixed reviews
  • no international transfers (in or out!)
  • not FSCS protected, kind of shocking considering NatWest backs it
  • the max account balance is £50K
  • it’s in a pilot phase now

Pleo

Pleo
pleo.io

Pleo is another fintech startup for businesses, offering a range of services. Pleo is a paid service only; it does not offer free accounts so you will need to choose from Essential (£6/month) or Pro package (£10/month). It aims to streamline money management for business. Pleo’s approach is to offer management of employees in the company so that each employee can have their own card, and company managers can see all expenses, making the process simpler. Pleo can be a valid solution if you own a small business that also has a lot of expenses made by different employees.

Country of origin: Copenhagen, Denmark
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 3,500
Banking license: No
Revenue: No

What we like:

  • slick mobile app
  • even slicker web administration panel
  • simple way of documenting expenses from multiple cards
  • topping up an account is free when using bank transfer

What we don’t like:

  • £10 fee per card (the first one is free)
  • £2.50 fee for card replacements
  • host of other charges for pretty much any action like withdrawals, transactions, international use
  • you should consider the size of your team as it can be quite cost
  • prepaid MasterCard only

N26

N26
n26.com

This is a German-based bank based in Berlin. N26 offers a range of fee-free financial services across Europe in 23 countries. In the UK market, it launched services in November 2018. However, just recently it has announced that N26 will close its UK accounts for 200,000 customers and blames Brexit for it. That is somewhat shocking behaviour but not entirely unexpected. Affected customers will have until 15 April 2020 to move the funds from their accounts. N26 lasted in the UK for 18 months before returning to Germany.

Because of this new revelation, we urge N26 customers to use the other UK or European providers. Many of which are on this list.

Country of origin: Berlin, Germany
Established: 2015
Number of customers: 5 Million
Banking license: Yes (Germany)
Revenue: $15 million

What we don’t like:

  • It feels like N26 is leaving the UK in a strop

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a wide selection of new contender banks offering different kinds of services. It very much depends on what is vital to your business. Just like standard banks provide specific services, these newcomers also solve specific problems for businesses. The problem is that there are different kinds of challenges businesses face. Each one focuses on a different issue, and no one can offer a complete solution to everything. You, as a growing startup, need to decide what is most important to you. Expenses management or international transfers? Low fee and fast currency transactions across Europe or cheque based payments for UK business?

Our picks are:

Standard, small business account in the UK

Starling offers stellar support, wide service range, awesome app and of course your money is protected by FSCS. Starling is a clear winner in our domestic market. Money protection is something that NatWest backed Mettle does not consider important. That is entirely unacceptable. We originally started with Tide bank account, but that was not working well for us. Some online card transactions were refused because Tide is using a prepaid card concept. Tide cards do not have Apple Pay integration, and their support keeps saying the features are coming but without any reliable timeframe. It looks like Tide is losing ground to some faster-moving competitors.

If you need a multi-currency account and hold-in currency

There is no winner between TransferWise and Revolut. They offer similar services. Revolut seems to dominate the European market with better transfer rates, while Transferwise has a more global presence.

  • Generally, Revolut is cheaper if you are in the UK, Europe or Switzerland and are only paying for things using the card (no transfers).
  • If you need more than £200 cash from ATMs and plan on using the card frequently, it is worth considering the Premium (£6.99 per month) or Metal (£12.99 per month) account options with higher limits.
  • Generally, TransferWise is cheaper if you plan to transfer money to anyone else (especially outside of Europe where 3rd party banks can take a healthy cut, but TransferWise often eliminates this through local bank accounts)

If your business relies on cheques, then your best choice is probably Starling. But who still uses cheques anyway?

You guessed it. We like Starling Bank, Monese, Revolut and TransferWise. Most of us here in the office have one of the 3. And we are all using those personally. Our client Marc Stanton from Nexus says he loves Starling notification system, Richard Kacerek our CEO likes Starling and Monese for what they stand for and how Starling is paving the way for the financial future in the UK. Other clients like Monese, where a European can open a sterling account without having to live in the UK, which is a brilliant move.

German N26 chose to blame Brexit and end their presence in the UK, saying they can’t obtain a banking license. While Monese operates without a banking license, it is still capable of producing £5 million profit. I’d say where is a will there is away.

Other things to consider

Currency exchange rates change all the time and differ from country to country. Something else to consider is limits imposed on your accounts if your business grows you don’t want to be limited by the amount of funds you can put through the account. A startup needs to have a good grasp on finances and especially burn rate. Integration with accountancy software is also essential.

What we came to define as a standard bank is changing. And let’s not forget what caused the financial crisis in the first place. Traditional banks have been dictating rules completely unchallenged for far too long. And that’s why we call the new startup banks challengers. They change things, they challenge the old ways, and we like that. At Empire Elements, we like crazy ideas and projects that disrupt industries, so for that, all fintech startups deserve a round of applause.

There are 300 banks and 45 building societies in the UK. The financial services sector contributed £132 billion to the UK economy, which is 6.9% of the economic output. It is a big business and competition is growing. New challenger banks are causing an earthquake in the financial sector, and that means only one thing.

Better services for the customers, so choose wisely.


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