Embracing Change and Innovation: A Conversation with Starling Bank Founder and CEO Anne Boden


If there were a Challenger Bank Hall of Fame, then rest assured that Anne Boden, who founded U.K.-based Starling Bank in 2014 and is the challenger bank’s CEO, would be prominently featured therein. As we learned in our conversation with Ms. Boden, her inspiration for founding the U.K.’s first digital bank was driven by both the opportunities presented by new technologies as well as a banking industry that was still significantly shell-shocked from the Great Financial Crisis of 2007 and 2008.

Headquartered in London, Starling Bank now has more than three million accounts and four different account types. Voted Britain’s “Best Current Account” five years in a row, Starling Bank maintains offices in Cardiff and Southampton, as well as London, and still has zero brick-and-mortar branches. Starling Bank secured its banking license from the Bank of England in 2016, launched its first mobile personal current account in 2017, and introduced the country’s first digital business bank account in 2018.

And just this week, Starling Bank celebrated its first full year of profitability, turning a profit of $38.3 million (£32 million) for the last financial year.

Below are a few excerpts from our conversation with Ms. Boden at FinovateSpring in San Francisco in May.

On the decision to launch a fully-digital challenger bank

(T)he banking sector, back in 2014, was still looking backwards. They were still looking at the financial crisis, trying to repair their balance sheets, trying to repair their financials, and they weren’t really looking forward about what they could do to improve customer experience or customer satisfaction. I went around the world, talking to big banks and talking to technology companies and asking what they were doing. I came to the decision in 2014: wouldn’t it be great to start a new bank? Wouldn’t it be great to have a new bank with all new technology, a different way of engaging with customers, being fair to customers? And here we are in 2022 and things have gone from strength to strength.

On the challenge and opportunity of digital transformation in financial services

Organizations have become far more fixated on minimizing the risk of change. “Let’s do small projects around the core. Let’s not change the core. Let’s make big decisions at the senior level. Don’t empower people.” But in order for big banks to be more successful and compete with the new startups such as Starling, they have to have new technology, but above all a culture of being prepared to change. I am trying to empower people – the CTOs, the CIOs – to knock on the door of the CEO and say: “We can be better. We can embark upon technology projects. And we can compete with the new guys.”

On the present and future of Starling Bank

In the U.K. we’re very, very successful. We’ve built a whole new technology stack. We have a new banking license, three million customers, (and) we have something like eight percent of market share in business banking. That is huge. We’ve done in three years what some banks have done in 300. But that’s because we have this remarkable technology stack which we call Engine, and we have lots of banks around the world asking us if they can use Engine. We don’t plan to get a banking license in the States, but banks in the States will be able to use our Engine technology. So we’re going to be software-as-a-service, based on Engine, so lots of businesses around the world can have a bit of the Starling magic.

Check out the rest of our interview on FinovateTV.

Photo by Prince Paul Joy