Anne Boden: ‘Starling Bank is coming to Ireland in Q1 2018’

21 Nov 2017

Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden. Image: Starling Bank

On a mission to upend the traditional retail banking model using cutting-edge fintech tools, Anne Boden believes it’s time consumers realised that their data is valuable currency.

Boden makes a very good point about data: the banks have it but consumers don’t and, as a result, the banks always have the upper hand. That was, however, until the fintech revolution began.

“It always struck me that this was a very unfair, unequal relationship,” she explained during a visit to Dublin.

‘We believe in using all of our energies to really transform the current account and be the best current account in the world’

With Starling Bank, the former chief operating officer of AIB is on a mission to create the best bank account in the world.

Starling Bank is regulated in the UK and is being passported into the Irish banking system in time for launch in the first quarter of 2018.

Founder and CEO Anne Boden has more than 30 years’ experience in retail banking and intends to build a smart, personalised and fully mobile banking experience that suits the modern consumer.

Banking on consumers

“I was a computer science grad and started working in the banking world in 1981 and have worked with most of the big banks.

“I increasingly came to the conclusion that the banks used data very bluntly, not cleverly. And, most of the time, that data is used to sell you more products. We [the banks] know something about you; you probably changed your name, got married, and they are suddenly trying to sell you something like life insurance. That’s a very unequal relationship.

“But what if that data was owned by an individual and they had the opportunity of sharing if they wanted to for the purpose of securing a mortgage? That’s the freedom I believe in.”

Boden whips out her iPhone and proudly shows the Starling Bank app, exclaiming: “This is how we make banking proactive!”

She demonstrates how the app can do clever things such as instantly lock a card, or how AI is used to help customers better understand their spending. Users can set targets for things they are saving up for, or make payments anywhere easily.

“We are launching in Ireland in Q1 2018. We are already fully launched in the UK and my plan is to bring Starling Bank to Europe.”

Boden believes it is vital to start with one core product. “We believe in focus and doing a few things really, really well. You cannot be a disrupter if you try to do everything on just a small scale. We totally focus on the current account part of the supply chain and are happy that other products provided to our customers are provided by other players. We believe in using all of our energies to really transform the current account and be the best current account in the world.”

Information is power

The key, Boden believes, is empowering the consumer with data.

“We are Mastercard issuers and we have direct access to payment systems, and each transaction is data.

“For example, we can provide a map showing where you spend your money the most and give you better knowledge about day-to-day transactions. We capture lots and lots of information and then use AI to analyse it. We can say how much you are spending on your shopping versus utilities. We can help you to set goals and we can actually help you to control your spending and your security.

“That information is currency and you should be able to use your data in a focused way. You could choose to share your spending data with mortgage providers and we will KYC (know your customer) using open banking to fill in forms for you. But it is your choice, not our choice.”

Boden said the company is launching a euro account for UK customers.

“We will then roll into Ireland. We have our passport ready and we will be in Ireland in the first quarter of next year.”

I put it to Boden that the banking world has barely changed in 200 years, save for the arrival of ATMs and then the internet.

“Is fintech the biggest revolution to hit banking? Oh yes, definitely. Technology has changed the way we do so many things, whether it’s iTunes for buying music, or Amazon for buying day-to-day goods.

“But nobody has really changed the way you do your banking, until now. Everyone in banking has done incremental things, but people want more.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years