Starling Bank’s Anne Boden exits London fintech

Looking out from the new offices of online bank Starling, Anne Boden sees the familiar, modest surroundings of the Welsh capital Cardiff rather than the skyscrapers of London’s City financial district.

“We have great universities in Cardiff, and we have great talent here, we use that talent to create something really special for customers,” Boden said.

Boden heads Starling, which has just opened the Cardiff site, where around half of its 1,800 employees will be based.

With nearly three million customers and eight percent of the UK business banking market share, Starling has successfully carved out a place for itself in the fiercely competitive world of fintech and, unlike many competitors, to make a profit.

Born into a modest family 67 kilometers from Cardiff in Swansea where she also studied, Boden calls the bank she started in 2014 “a force to be reckoned with”.

The same description could apply to Boden who regularly describes herself as a “five foot (1.5 meter) Welsh woman”.

In the very masculine world of finance, she defends the position of women entrepreneurs and has been in charge of a government study group on the subject.

“I’m not a typical female banker,” says Boden, who wants to offer her clients a different experience from the traditional banks she worked for until 2013.

But in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the former Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) employee had to stand out from all the other entrepreneurs looking to break out of the old world of finance.

Already over 50, Boden has teamed up with Tom Blomfield, a young Oxford University graduate typical of the London startup world.

But in 2015, Blomfield jumped ship with much of Starling’s management team just months before launch to launch rival bank Monzo.

Boden recounts in his autobiography his struggle to maintain control of Starling and his vision: a profitable but “responsible” online bank with top-notch customer service that respects the environment.

Starling says he only uses renewable energy and recycled plastic.

The bank’s market capitalization of £2bn ($2.5bn, €2.3bn) is far behind Revolut ($33bn) or Monzo ($4.5bn), but often beats competitors for customer satisfaction.

– ‘No crypto gimmicks’ –

“It’s a friendly rivalry, I think,” Boden says of his relationship today with the big names in British fintech, while not shy of criticizing them and praising Starling’s more cautious approach. .

In her book, “Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry,” she describes the tedious task of obtaining a banking license for Starling — the holy grail that allows a bank to use customer deposits to issue loans — to distinguish Starling. of some of its competitors in the UK.

The fintech giant Revolut is not recognized as a bank in the United Kingdom, although it has this status in several other European countries, and the financial press regularly reports on its efforts to obtain a license.

Without a license, banking startups struggle to make a profit.

“Some of these new fintechs are trying to find ways to monetize their customer base and are offering trading apps or cryptos as a way to generate income,” she says.

“We’re not looking for gimmicks, we’re all about delivering what customers really want.”

Although she won’t answer questions about a potential IPO originally scheduled for later this year or early 2023, Boden happily talks about the bank’s future.

“If I look forward to five years, people will talk about Starling as a global technology company that has a very successful bank in the UK and it all started here in Cardiff,” she says.

“We’re moving towards a future where technology is everywhere and things are happening all around you, banks need to respond,” she says.

“Instead of paying your insurance bill by the quarter, you might be paying by the minute. Maybe you’ll be paying for your self-driving car while you’re driving down the road yourself.”

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