Building a bank from scratch is not an easy thing to do which is why Anne Boden, chief executive of UK-based challenger bank Starling, wants to remain in control.
“We’re not up for sale”, Boden tells Verdict, at the New Statesman Emerging Technologies conference in London.
We’re very interesting and people want to come and talk to us all the time. But we’re not up for sale. That’s not the point of doing a bank and this is a bit more important than selling out.
The point of building a bank for Boden is to make the financial lives of people better.
Since launching Starling Bank three years ago after quitting a 35-year career in financial services, Boden is working to ensure that banks work for their customers and not the other way around.
But it’s not been an easy journey so far.
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Most people don’t understand that they can switch their bank and get all these other services that can enrich their lives. Money is very stressful so we want to provide the intel for people to have a healthy financial life.
Education has been one of the focus points of Starling since its launch in 2014, to early 2016 when it was granted a full banking license, to this year when it launched its full current account.
As well as educating people about good financial health, the challenger bank has also been educating those in financial services building a new bank can be done.
Initially people didn’t take us seriously. Starting a bank was very unusual and it took a while to convince people it was worthwhile and could be done.
Now, as a result of the unusual steps that Starling took, such as building its own infrastructure from scratch, other companies are coming to the bank to use its technology.
“We built our own payments schemes,” explains Boden. “We have lots of fintech startups that don’t have direct access to payment schemes come to us, and we process their payments as well.”
This payments service works so well that Starling recently received the contract for the Department of Work and Pensions which is using the bank’s real-time API for faster payments.
There are other things Starling wants to change in the financial services industry too. In her role as chief executive, Boden has been vocal about the need for diversity across the financial and tech industries.
At Starling, diversity is how we do things. We have some really great senior women and all sorts of diversity. I personally believe it is very tough for women at big organisations. So having a boss who is supportive and an organisation that expects people to do well is half the advantage of working at a place like this.
Whilst the focus of 2017 has been to grow Starling in the UK, the bank has two big challenges for 2018: expansion outside of the UK and business accounts.
Boden says she wants to have “customers all over Europe enjoying the Starling experience”, which is why the bank will be expanding into Ireland in the first half of next year. The prospect of Brexit isn’t slowing down these plans.
It is a pity about Brexit. But I’ve run businesses across all of Europe – at ABN AMRO I ran a business across 30, 40 European countries. And I’m looking forward to providing that service back in Europe.
Business accounts will also be coming soon. Starling has a waiting list for small businesses, initially for up to 10 employees which it hopes will become a thriving B2B business.
“We’re very ambitious. But we’re hoping to do it in a nice way with lovely people.”