How do you start your own bank? It’s not something you do every day. That’s why Campaign was particularly excited to welcome to its 11th Book Club event in partnership with Zone, Starling Bank CEO and founder Anne Boden.
As well as running the UK’s first online-only bank, Boden is also an author. Penguin has just re-released her latest book, Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry and Changed the Way We Manage our Money Forever. Edward Craig, head of Content Labs at Campaign caught up with her to learn more about her and the book.
“I’m really excited to talk to you about Starling and about the book,” said Boden, opening the discussion. “I spent 30-odd years working in big banks around the world. You name the bank, I’d worked there, in very senior executive positions. Then one day, I decided it was time for the next thing. And I said to myself, ‘I’m starting a bank.’ The words were a shock, even to me. The book is that story, of a mid-50s, seasoned business executive starting again from scratch, to build a bank.”
The book, Boden promised, is not simply a self-congratulatory puff piece. “I was keen to tell the whole story, of everything that happened,” she explained. “And really, everything that could happen did happen. I had difficulty raising the money. I’d get a team then I’d lose the team. I’d raise a lot of money, in very unusual circumstances. Then the team that left me, becomes our competitor and we race to various milestones. But today, Starling has more than £9bn in deposits and three million customers. It’s highly profitable and has half the market share of Barclays Bank in the small-business segment. It took Barclays 300 years, we’ve taken three. People didn’t think I could do it. And the book tells the story of how I proved them wrong.”
“And that all stemmed from that one moment,” asked Craig, “when you realised what was wrong with the banking system and you thought, ‘hang on, let’s put the customer first’?
“Yes. The people running banks had moved further and further away from the customers and the people who understood the customers. In banking, you tended to have two approaches to marketing. Either the marketing function wasn’t on the board, or the bank was marketing-led, and the latter type of organisation typically fared badly in the financial crisis of 2008. After the financial crisis, marketing basically disappeared from the agenda of the big banks. And so did technology. Everyone turned in on themselves while they worked on repairing their balance sheet. But while they were doing that, technology was transforming every other industry — how people were shopping, how they were buying their music, everything. No one was brave enough to say that things could be different. I was ashamed to be a banker.”
“How important,” asked Craig, “was brand to your ability to disrupt the market? And how important is brand to disruption generally?”
“I talked to a lot of experts about brand during our set-up phase. But the early versions of our brand just weren’t ‘us’. The Starling brand comes from the people who founded Starling — the people I was working with, who all believed that it was possible to use the best technology in the world, in banking, and to give customers great value. We believe you can be fair to customers and give them great services and be profitable — if you’re efficient. What we don’t believe is that technology and digital services should be cold and distant. That’s why we have a 24/7 customer service team. And the people who work in it are there for the customers, they’re really good at what they do, and they have a heart. But that comes from the people who created Starling. What we needed from the marketing teams was for them to make them tangible.”
During the remainder of the discussion, Boden talks about working closely with marketing people, Martin Sorrell among them, for the first time in her career. She covered the importance she placed, throughout the set-up process, on having people who would challenge her ideas. The discussion then ranges across subjects such as Starling’s success in hiring some of the world’s top tech talents, the importance of culture in success, the ethnicity pay gap, the importance of inclusion to Starling’s success — and more.
Boden also has very strong feelings about women’s access to finance. “It all started before COVID-19 when you could sit in the hairdressers. I’d always pick up the men’s and the women’s magazines and start going through them looking for articles about finance. In all the women’s magazines, there were lots of articles about saving up the pennies, not having that extra coffee or avoiding buying that pair of shoes. In the men’s magazines, it was all about investing in cryptocurrency or making your millions. Women’s magazines seemed to talk to women in quite an infantile way while the men’s magazines tried to build their readers’ confidence. I asked our research team to analyse 200 magazines. Consistently, women were referred to in this very condescending way and men as if they managed their money. So, we started our campaign to make money equal, to try and change these stereotypes. Now we have expanded the campaign to also promote fairness in the way we talk about and promote finance to different ethnic and other groups in society.”
To find out about how to disrupt markets and business models in a way that gives your business the edge, order Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry and Changed the Way We Manage our Money Forever here. To hear Anne and Ed in conversation catch up on the full Book Club discussion, click here.
Zone, a Cognizant Digital Business, created its Book Club series to champion innovation, diversity and creativity in the technology industry, with a specific aim to inspire, educate and inform.