Zoya Malik speaks to Symmie Swil, head of SME banking at Starling Bank, about the new range of accounting and bookkeeping services on offer to support Starling’s small business customer base

 Zoya Malik: Why did Starling Bank decide to provide SMEs with accounting services?

Symmie Swil: We developed our accounting and bookkeeping services to allow business customers to spend more time focusing on building their companies, rather than doing administrative tasks.

Our SME customers told us that viewing transactional data in real time would be a more efficient way for them to manage their accounts, so we introduced the Business Toolkit. This enables account holders to manage their invoices, bills, tax, VAT and more from their bank account, all for just £7 a month. We also offer free integrations with QuickBooks, FreeAgent, Xero and Paystream, meaning SMEs have a host of tools to help them have easy access to real-time insights.

ZM: How has the bank invested in R&D, marketing and roll-out to integrate accounting services?

SS: The integration of accounting services is important to our business customers, and because all our tech is homegrown, we are able to continuously innovate and improve our offering. We were also fortunate to win the £100m Capability and Innovation Fund grant in 2019, which we used to help us build out key SME banking features. We also made a £95m investment of our own funds to further enhance our offering.

Customer feedback helps us identify where we should invest. It drove us to build the Business Toolkit and also led us to expand the integrations we offer in our Marketplace. High on the list for our SMEs is the ability to share secure access to their account with their bookkeepers and accountants, demonstrating the value SMEs get from these pivotal roles – it’s something we’re working on and looking forward to announcing soon!

We also really value the role accountants and bookkeepers play in supporting small businesses, so we launched a partner programme specifically for them. We help accountants and bookkeeper partners with the set up and ongoing support of their clients with a Starling account, and they value the ability it gives them to offer a more holistic service to their clients.

We also support our customers via our blog, which has a lot of tailored accounting content, and our online business guides, where we offer SMEs support around topics including how to find the right accountant, using tax tools to save time, and writing an invoice.

ZM: What savings can clients make using Starling’s accounting services?

SS: Our business account offers no monthly charges and gives SMEs the chance to add on bespoke subscriptions including a Business Toolkit, providing bookkeeping and accounting tools, a euro business account and a dollar Business account, so they can manage their money in their own way.

We also offer SMEs integrations with Xero, Quickbooks and Freeagent, and real-time payment notifications and spending analytics to save people time and money.

ZM: How does this set Starling Bank apart from the competition?

SS: We are a digital bank that is open all hours. The speed and ease of account set-up, our competitive pricing and our advanced software integrations set us apart.

Our 24/7 UK-based customer support also means our customers know they can chat, message or call us whenever they have a question – which is really important for busy business customers who often work all hours!

ZM: How are you seeing entrepreneurs’ expectations changing?

SS: Entrepreneurs now expect the same type of experience in managing their business as they experience in their personal lives. That means higher expectations of ease of use, real-time insights and the ability to pull in data from various sources and run analysis.

SMEs now expect to spend less time producing the data and more time using those insights to make better business decisions. The same can be said for meeting HMRC requirements with the introduction of more regular reporting through Making Tax Digital. This will hopefully reduce the administrative burden on the business and support more accurate business data.

ZM: What take-up rates do you expect? What is the target market?

SS: Starling has a 5% share of the UK SME market, and our account numbers have continued to grow since day one. The pandemic has amplified our growth as people have shifted to digital and reduced cash use.

Our target market is everyone who runs a business. From a newly incorporated company to a sole trader and established SME and owner managed business, we welcome businesses of all shapes and sizes, and we are seeing growing demand from larger and more complex SMEs

ZM: Do you plan to integrate with other accounting software providers?

SS: Accounting integrations are our most popular services on the Marketplace, and we are always looking to expand our offering taking inspiration from our customer feedback and our own research and development.

Our support for business customers is wider than our marketplace integrations. Our leading public APIs also allow other regulated third parties to connect to us – for example, Clearbooks is not on our Marketplace but customers can connect their Starling bank feed from their Clearbooks account to allow for more seamless accounting.