Starling’s Anne Boden on security, technology, and women in banking

Starling's Anne Boden on security, technology, and women in banking. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0
Written by Devie Mohan

Devie Mohan interviews Anne Boden from Starling ahead of a series of interviews from Sibos 2015. Topics include security, technology, and women in banking.

The first of my exclusive interviews surrounding Sibos 2015 features Anne Boden from Starling, and fellow BankNXT contributor. Despite Anne not attending the event this year, I sent her some questions about customer loyalty, gamification, and cloud-based technology, plus the role of women in fintech.

Creating a loyal customer, I think, is one of biggest challenges facing the banking industry today. How do you think the industry can address this?

The biggest way to win loyal customers is to give them a flawless experience that they can’t get elsewhere.

How will you create a current account offering that improves upon the current high street offerings? Also, how will you announce it? What kind of marketing channels would work for Starling?

Anne Boden of Starling Bank.We’re keeping our launch plans under our hat for now, but let me just say that we believe we’ll be offering a very unique experience. There are lots of ways that we believe we can enhance customers’ ability to manage their money better, using the best in technology, and the associated granularity of available transactional data. Because we are only offering one product – the world’s best everyday bank account – we won’t be using customers’ data against them in cross-selling, but will be using it to enhance the customer experience. In terms of marketing and our launch, again, we need to keep some things a surprise, but unsurprisingly digital channels will obviously play a big role in our plans.

Will you ever incorporate gamification in Starling’s UI to attract and retain customers?

At Starling, we strongly believe that technology should never be deployed for technology’s sake. However, if we can apply UI from other categories to improve our customer experience, then we will always look to do that.

Almost all of the challenger banks coming up have gone for cloud-based core processing technology from third party startups or vendors, while Starling has opted to develop the technology in-house. What is your thinking behind this?

We don’t believe opting for a so-called ‘bank in a box’ solution would allow us to differentiate enough in terms of customer experience.

What do you think are the biggest security and privacy threats facing the retail banking industry? Do you think there are enough fintech firms working on these challenges?

As APIs and data sharing opens up through the implementation of regulation such as PSD2 and other category developments, it will be down to the regulators and all participating businesses to ensure the highest level of security standards.

How can banks and fintech startups work together? Does Starling have any plans to work closely with fintech startups?

We consider ourselves both a fintech startup and a bank. As such, we don’t have any plans to work with any other startups at this point in time, but if an opportunity arose and brought a benefit to our customers, then of course we would consider it.

I completely agree (based on your blog) that full stack banking is essential to creating a seamless customer experience. Have you seen any examples, from other parts of the world, and other industries, where a seamless customer experience has been created successfully?

We have tended to look outside of category for who is delivering best-in-class customer experience, particularly for mobile. The brands that our future customers rattle off when asked are nearly always the same: Spotify, Amazon, Uber, Apple, Slack, Netflix, and Airbnb.

There is the banking tax, that challenger banks are fighting; a long-winded licensing process with the FCA and legislations that were set up for traditional banks. Is there a way to create a regulatory environment that’s more challenger-bank-friendly?

I think the new regulatory process in the UK has helped greatly to make it easier for startups, but of course more can always be done. I think the key thing is in moving on from the sins of the past and focusing on the opportunities for the future, at least for those of us who weren’t around during the financial crisis. As long as we keep the customer’s best interests at heart, then profit will follow, and in that respect, we, the regulators and government should all be on the same side.

On a personal note, how exhausting has the process been?

On a whole, I find it exhilarating rather than exhausting. It’s exciting to be part of what feels like a real tipping point for British banking, with a number of new entrants hovering in the wings ready to launch. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity of doing something I really enjoy with some very talented and ambitious people.

I just have to ask you about women in banking. I think there are a lot more women in banking leadership roles at Sibos this year compared to before. I think this is a fantastic sign, but what can help more women rise to the top in banks? Can women really ‘have it all’?

Why can’t women have it all? Men do! Sibos is all about payments, banking and technology, and we know that women are not reaching the top in enough numbers in all of these segments. When we come to fintech, we combine all the above with the startup world and the women are almost totally absent. All I can say is that the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better despite the efforts of well-meaning initiatives.

Sorry to hear you’re not attending Sibos this year. Will you be at Geneva next year once Starling has launched?

I love attending industry events, but our work on Starling is likely to take priority over the next 12-18 months. If I can spare the time, I will.

About the author

Devie Mohan

Devie Mohan is a fintech industry adviser and analyst based in London. She is the co-founder and CEO of Burnmark, a fintech research company, and is a panel member on the ING group Think Forward initiative on better financial decision making. Devie is actively involved in the fintech community and has been listed in CityAM's Top 10 Fintech Powerlist, and in Innotribe's Fintech Power Women list.

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