Starling Bank – A Shining Example of Winning With Purpose
As passionate believers in the power of being led by your Purpose, Pecan and Hedgehog are always on the lookout for success stories to inspire others who want to win with Purpose and find the courage and bravery to do so. Here we share the story of Starling Bank, KPMG Nunwood’s 2021 UK Customer Experience Excellence Leader.
What triggered Starling Bank to become Purpose-led?
CEO and Founder Anne Boden has a long track record of senior roles in the banking sector. In her interview with Finovate TV she describes how in 2014 technology had advanced significantly in the sector but banks were still looking backwards, repairing damage left from the financial crisis instead of looking forward to improve the banking experience for customers.
Change and transformation programmes were led by saving costs and minimising risk rather than innovating to give customers what they want and need. As Anne says herself “banking was broken – so we decided to fix it”.
As a self-proclaimed disruptor, Anne founded Starling Bank to challenge the sector, with a distinctive purpose to put customers in control of their money and their data. Using fast technology, fair service and honest values, the bank set about engaging with customers in a different way. Their intention was to solve people’s banking problems rather than sell to them.
How successful are they?
There isn’t room here to list the many awards and accolades that Starling Bank has achieved over the years. So here is a summary of some of the most impactful results indicating how being Purpose-led is winning for everyone in their eco-system.
- 7million customers in 2021, triple the number in 2019
- Voted Britain’s Best Current Account for five years in a row
- The Which? Banking brand of the year 2021 and 2022
- Rated 4.1 out of 5 stars for Culture and Values on Glassdoor
- Only bank in British history founded by a woman – 40% of leadership team are women
- First FinTech to get a banking license and the first to be profitable
- Approximately £188 million revenue in 2021, a 157% increase year-on-year
How did they go about focusing on Purpose?
At the heart of their success is leadership and culture – “a culture of being prepared to change”. In Anne’s interview with Tortoise she describes a fundamental mindset shift about the role of the current account product. Whilst most banks see this as a drain on resources and focus on up-selling other, more profitable products, Starling Bank put a free current account, serviceable 24/7 via an App, front and centre of their proposition. Why? Because it’s the service above all others that puts customers in control of their money.
What can we do to help customers spend and manage their money? What financial problems do they have that we can help fix?
These are the kinds of questions that everyone in Starling Bank is continually asking themself, no matter their role or position in the hierarchy. This is another significant mindset shift, the belief that innovation can legitimately come from any employee or even customer, it is not the prerogative of the Executive Team or of one particular department. Colleagues are encouraged to try new things, take on new roles, listen, and help each other – risk taking is seen as a route to learning, not a route to failure.
On Glassdoor the culture is described as friendly and non-hierarchical with a strong focus on customer service and personal development. As well as the significant influence from their CEO and other leaders, rituals and ways of working keep the culture alive in the day-to-day. Examples from their website include
- When the People Team announces the names of new joiners, hundreds of people give them a welcome wave on Slack
- Social events make sure people get to know about the whole person not just the work person – musicians, teachers, make-up artists, dentists, different faiths and heritages
- Colleagues have autonomy over how they dress, hair colour, when to take breaks – what matters is how they treat other colleagues and customers, not how they look
- A weekly Q&A with the CEO is live streamed, #AskAnne, where anyone can ask questions not just about business but about her as a person
- Their #BrightIdeas Slack channel is used to suggest new product features, or tweaks to the Starling App
- In addition to 33 days holiday, colleagues can take their Birthday off and take part in upto 16 hours of paid voluntary work a year
Aside from leadership and culture, Starling Bank’s purpose appears to be embedded through every aspect of the business – their products and services, their processes and their decision-making.
When your purpose is to put customers in control of their money and their data, it’s crucial to know how they want to do this and the problems they are facing. Starling Bank stays close to their customers through the App and uses this insight on a daily basis to drive incremental improvements. This helps the bank stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new product development, with many of Starling’s premium products being developed as a result of customers getting in touch.
Whilst a FinTech bank, the human touch is central to the relationship the bank builds with their customers. Customer Service agents are on hand 24/7 through the in-app chat, by email or by phone, ready to help answer questions or listen to feedback and this is actively encouraged.
Has it all been plain sailing?
Whilst embedding the right culture has made delivering on Starling’s purpose easier, there have certainly been challenges along the way. Getting a banking license took 3-4 years and Brexit means this cannot now be transferred to other EU nations so any expansion overseas will require fresh applications.
In her interview with Tortoise, Anne describes the tricky balance between not to pushing products onto customers with the need to meet their needs through new avenues. Outside of the four accounts currently available, the bank currently links customers to services from other providers. However, as trust in Starling’s brand continues to strengthen they may find demand for a wider ‘in-house’ offering gathers such momentum that they will need to diversify.
The team at Starling Bank continue to fix real problems that people face with their money whether that is reducing gambling, finding ways to save, or better budgeting of their finances. Customers will continue to have new and different problems and the purpose will drive them to find solutions.
What can we learn from Starling Bank’s approach to Purpose?
- Starting with Purpose can change the way you think vs traditional providers in a sector
- When Purpose is founded in deep knowledge of what people really want it is powerfully attractive to customers and employees
- Purpose is everybody’s role and questions of how to continue to deliver on that Purpose need to be encouraged and considered by all
- Pursuing Purpose is driven by continual insight and feedback from customers, feeding continual improvement and new product development
- Whilst digitising the customer experience is attractive and cost efficient, human contact may still be an important part of delivering on Purpose
- Delivering on your Purpose means getting great at customer experience, culture and change
KPMG Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Report https://m.marketing.kpmg.uk/webApp/UK-CEE-Report-2021
Interview with Finovate TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhUF_uIgakk
Interview with Tortoise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjFhk3andY4
Company website: www.starlingbank.com