Starling Bank vs Airwallex: Compare on fees, features and benefits

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Starling Bank vs Airwallex: Compare on fees, features and benefits

What is Starling Bank

Founded in 2014 and based in London, Starling Bank is a mobile-only challenger bank offering business current accounts in the UK.

Originally pitched as a consumer product, it provides over 4 million bank accounts. More recently it has expanded its product range to appeal to businesses. Customer funds are protected by FSCS up to £85,000 in total across all business accounts held by that company (or individual if consumer) at the bank.

Key business account aspects include:

Accounts

Open a GBP account for free. Pay extra for EUR and USD currency accounts. Comes with a UK & Euro IBAN.

Payments

Make unlimited domestic UK payments for free. Low-cost Euro and International payments. SEPA payments generally take 1-3 working days to process.

Cards

Physical Mastercard debit cards for online and in-store purchases in GBP or EUR. Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are also available. Replacement cards cost £5.  

Expenses

Keep tabs on employee expenditure through automated receipt capture and integrations into platforms like Xero.

Integrations

Connect with accounting software, payroll systems, payment gateways, card terminals and more.

Overdrafts and loans

Borrow funds as overdrafts or business loans provided eligibility criteria are met after 12 months of being a customer.

With its banking licence and focus on domestic business current accounts, Starling suits small and micro businesses based primarily in the UK and Europe needing essential day-to-day transactional banking with integrated financial management.   

Ideal customers include tradespeople, consultants and agencies. They conduct regular domestic payments alongside occasional international money transfers or overseas sales.

What is Airwallex?

Established in 2015, Airwallex streamlines complex international treasury management for global growth-stage businesses across multiple geographies. 

Unlike Starling Bank, Airwallex is authorised as an Electronic Money Institution and customer funds are subject to stringent safeguarding requirements with no upward limit as detailed in the E-Money Regulations 2011.  

Key highlights include:  

Multi-currency accounts (known as global accounts)

Seamlessly hold and transact balances in 23 major currencies including GBP, USD, EUR, AUD, CAD, CNY and more. Each currency account is assigned unique account details for local and international payments.  

Online payments

Accept payments from 180+ countries in 180+ currencies. Easily link Airwallex with your online store or marketplace to accept credit cards, debit cards and alternative payments from global customers in your chosen settlement currencies. Use no-code payment links, eCommerce integrations or customisable checkouts via API.

International transfers & FX conversions

Make fast, no-fee cross-border payments over 110+ local payment methods and bypass SWIFT. Send 11 major currencies (USD, HKD, CNY, AUD, EUR, GBP, CAD, SGD, CHF, NZD, JPY) at the interbank rate + 0.5%, and all other currencies at the interbank rate + 1.0%. Customers can send money to 150+ countries, 85 of which are same-day payouts, and 65 of which are instant payouts.

Borderless cards

Issue physical and virtual Visa cards to employees and set customisable parameter-based controls around detailed aspects of company expense policies. Airwallex borderless cards can be spent directly in 10 currencies without conversion fees. 

Expenses 

Airwallex provides end-to-end tools for teams to track and control spend globally whether on cards or reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses. Teams can capture receipts, submit expenses, and put through multi-layer approval flows to ensure company funds are spent appropriately. All data is seamlessly synced with accounting platforms like Xero, Quickbooks and Netsuite.

Integrations

Sync Airwallex real-time transactional data into ecosystem apps like Shopify, WooCommerce, Xero, NetSuite and QuickBooks and more to streamline payment workflows and eliminate duplicate data entry and reconciliation work.

Bills and accounts payable

Airwallex centralises accounts payable workflows so finance teams can consolidate domestic and global supplier payments. Staff can upload or email invoices, extract all relevant data, send for approval, and pay domestic and international vendors within the Airwallex platform. Batch payments of up to 1,000 can be automated across currencies and countries through Airwallex.

Revenue management

Automate recognition, reconciliation and categorisation of global revenue streams by geography, business unit and various custom metadata tags.

Airwallex focuses on serving mid-market and enterprise businesses operating – and scaling – internationally across multiple regions or lines of business. Typical customers include:

  • High-growth technology firms managing global payables and receivables workflows.

  • eCommerce retailers selling into global markets needing multi-currency payment acceptance.  

  • Marketplaces and platforms with fragmented overseas user bases to pay or collect funds from.

  • Online travel agents and booking platforms who collect customer funds in multiple currencies and require complex supplier payment workflows.

  • SaaS businesses who need to protect their operating profit margin with cost efficient and agile financial operations.

Compare Starling Bank with Airwallex

Starling Bank features and fees explained

Pricing aspects include:

Account

No monthly fees for opening or holding a GBP account. £2/month for EUR accounts & £5/month for USD accounts. 

Payments

No charge for UK domestic transfers or Direct Debits. Euro SEPA Instants for real-time payment also free. £0.30 per international transfer on local payment rails.

Cash deposits

Deposit cash for free at any Post Office up to £1,000 or 1% of total turnover, whichever is higher. 0.25% fee above with £5 monthly minimum.  

Cards

First UK debit card shipped for free, £5 per replacement. Monthly card spending limits configurable per user between £100 – £25,000.  

As a licensed UK bank, managing customer deposits and lending activities, Starling uses a familiar transparent fee-based structure across core services. This approach allows businesses to understand clearly what is complementary versus what is chargeable as needs evolve without surprise subscriptions kicking in arbitrarily. 

This encompasses:  

Accounts

No monthly fee for opening or holding a standard UK GBP account with extra per month costs for EUR/USD foreign currency accounts.  

Payments

No fees for unlimited domestic UK money transfers or Direct Debit collection. Very low fees are applied for occasional overseas payments and cash deposits relative to legacy banks.  

Borrowing

Overdraft facilities are available provided credit criteria are met, offering another channel to cover short-term funding gaps alongside business loans.

So Starling presents a fairer value alternative to incumbent business account offerings while providing security from a reputable, financially regulated institution.

Airwallex features and fees explained

Instead of a traditional multi-tiered account plan structure used by most competitors, Airwallex leverages an innovative, streamlined frequent flyer-inspired approach. It bundles robust functionality under a deceptively simple framework, which incorporates the following:

Core services

No recurring monthly or annual subscription fees imposed for crucial day-to-day activities around maintaining multi-currency accounts, sending free low-cost payments worldwide, categorising unlimited employee card expenses or contacting customer support experts on demand.

Value-added services

Specialist modules helping enterprises smoothen overseas expansion encompassing revenue stream automation, fraud elimination, supplier financing, payment optimisation and more come included free without added charges.  

FX pricing

Airwallex applies fair and competitive 0.5-1% margins above the interbank rate when actively needing currency conversions in-app. 

Starling Bank vs Airwallex additional features compared

Beyond foundational capabilities enabling account balances, money transfers, and cards, several differentiators separate Starling and Airwallex across critical evaluation criteria to assess appropriate platforms for managing corporate finances amid international expansion.

Support model

Starling pledges digital-first assistance leveraging in-app tools, email, and online community forums for troubleshooting self-service issues and providing guidance in navigating product intricacies during UK hours. 

Airwallex provides customer support to all customers and dedicated cross-functional account management to eligible customers for prompt personalised support from payments, treasury and platform experts.  

Globalisation abilities

Starling concentrates squarely on supplying robust essential UK business banking services for micro companies and SMEs conducting basic domestic transactions with occasional international wires or card payments abroad.

Airwallex was conceived specifically to solve the immense complexity innovative enterprises repeatedly endure orchestrating highly fragmented worldwide financial infrastructure. Unifying end-to-end systems, controls and tracking are critical for confident expansion; far beyond simply holding isolated foreign currencies or making one-off overseas transfers.  

Growth velocity

Starling’s UK banking DNA may align with more gradually evolving businesses that mostly operate in the UK market with occasional operations in overseas markets.

However, aggressive high-velocity enterprises targeting multi-country scale-ups face immense global liquidity balancing strains with financial operations struggling to handle immense transaction volumes across borders simultaneously. 

Airwallex treasury specialisation is tailored to cure these hurdles by unifying dispersed tools into a centralised hub, empowering leadership to navigate intricate cross-border commerce at the pace demanded by markets and investors using the robust infrastructure.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, Starling Bank aims to provide essential business banking services for micro-enterprises and SMEs needing a solid UK-based banking partner for domestic financial operations.

Yet, international businesses managing complex global treasury demands involving fragmented legacy financial systems across borders and currencies quickly encounter restrictive limitations as sophistication and pace accelerate.

Conversely, Airwallex unlocks immense incremental value by combining integrated global banking infrastructure, automated payables/receivables workflows, seamless accounting orchestration and value-added specialist modules.  

This enables enterprise finance chiefs to stage international expansions at appropriate velocity by unifying end-to-end systems into a centralised hub that provides control, transparency, and confidence when it matters most.

Sources: 

For more information on Airwallex, visit Airwallex Business Account and Airwallex pricing.

  1. https://www.starlingbank.com/business-account/compare-business-bank-accounts/#/compare

  2. https://www.starlingbank.com/our-fees-rates-and-charges/

Disclaimer: We wrote this article in Q1 2024. The information was based on our own online research and we were not able to manually test each tool or provider. The information is provided for educational purposes only and a reader should consider the specific requirements of their business when evaluating providers. This research is reviewed every six months. If you would like to request an update, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

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