Today, Product Director Ben is taking over the blog to talk about a brand new feature we’re adding to the app: Spending Insights. He details why we’ve built the feature and how we hope it’ll be helpful to customers’ everyday lives.

Every day I wake up with a phone full of notifications from apps competing for my attention, and then through the day I’m bombarded with adverts from companies competing for my wallet — it’s actually very difficult to keep up with what I am spending, and where.

Traditional banks don’t typically help you to keep track of your spending. A bank statement is usually just a list of transactions with unhelpful names and very little information to enable you to make better decisions with your money — you have to copy the information into spreadsheets or budgeting tools to learn anything interesting, but not everyone has the time, inclination or Excel skills to do that.

At Starling we are motivated by a desire to help customers lead healthy financial lives and take control of their money. We’re a mobile bank and that should mean being able to understand your spending patterns in an intuitive way, straight from your phone.

So I’m really excited to share with you a preview of Spending Insights, which is the next step on our journey to help you take control of your money.

See where your money goes

We want our customers to be able to see at a glance where they have been spending their money, to help give them ideas about where they can save money, or spend their money more wisely.

We have created Category Insights, so you can see how your spending is changing from one month to the next across ten key spending categories, for example, Travel and Lifestyle; we’ve also added an additional category for business expenses so you don’t forget to claim those back too. We automatically pick a category for each transaction, but you can also quickly change the category if we didn’t get it quite right (just tap on the category on the transaction to pick a different one).

Sometimes you want to see a more detailed breakdown, so we’ve also created Merchant Insights to help you compare spending between different merchants. This is especially useful when you want to compare places where you typically spend a large amount once or twice a month, with those where you make lots of small purchases.

I’ve already found this feature useful myself. During testing, I realised my Uber spend was creeping up month on month, and I was spending more than I wanted to on breakfast on the way to work. Instead, I decided to cut back on those two things and put the money towards flights for a holiday to Chile later this year (check out our travel blog about using your money abroad).

Making insights work

Since setting out on the journey to offer customers better visibility into their spending, I’ve realised why banks haven’t done this before — it’s pretty hard.

If you ever look closely at your traditional bank statement, you’ll see that there are all sorts of different ways information is presented, making it tricky for a bank to understand and group similar merchants together at scale. For example, when I used my Starling card to buy a coffee this morning, the information we got back from the card network looked like this:

iZ *Old Spike Roas\54 Peckham Rye\London\SE154JR GBRGBR

While it’s easy for us to understand that this is probably the Old Spike Roastery in Peckham, the format varies a lot across different merchants and point of sale providers and acquirers like WorldPay and iZettle, making it difficult for a machine to consistently interpret. However, we felt like this was a problem worth solving.

To solve this and serve large numbers of customers spending around the world, we’ve built a machine-learning based transaction cleaning system that takes the raw data in and turns it into a cleaned merchant with a name that makes sense to you, a logo to identify the transaction at a glance, and a map to remind you where you were when you bought that round last weekend. As with all these types of systems, the more our customers spend, the more feedback we get and the better the names, logos and maps will become.

This is also a great opportunity for me to say thanks to our engineering and design team who have made this possible. A big shout out to Josh and Sam who have built the transaction cleaning system from scratch (yes, we do typically build everything ourselves); to Jake and Teresa who have built the UI in the app and managed to keep our track record going of launching iOS and Android at the same time; and to our designers Steven and Harry who have designed something I think is very simple yet powerful.

Wrapping up

We’ll be rolling this feature out to all customers across iOS and Android over the next week, so when you get the feature we’d love to hear about any interesting things you’ve learned and decisions you’ve made to use your money differently, as well as any ideas to make the product better — just Tweet us at @starlingbank.

We also know that many of you want to know what else is coming soon, so keep a look out for a blog from us in the next week or so that lays out some more detail on what to expect from Starling through the end of the year. You can expect to see some thoughts about helping you track spending over longer periods of time, budget, and to put money aside for experiences that you care about most.

Looking forward to hearing from you all.

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