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From backing business to cracking down on scams, we're changing banking for good

From backing business to cracking down on scams, we're changing banking for good

Starling Bank increased their revenue by 600% in 2019/20.

Anne Boden

Anne Boden

4 min read Partner content

For too long, banks have failed to prioritise their customers. Now, it's time to re-calibrate the banking experience to make it safer, easier and fairer for everyone.

There can be few unfamiliar with the retail mantra 'the customer is always right'. After a career spent in so-called 'traditional banking' I was always a little surprised that this didn't appear to apply to banks which, after all, made up a fair proportion of the high street. Even after a succession of financial crises, large banks seemed to view customers as a necessary inconvenience.

This was, in great part, the motivation behind founding Starling Bank in 2014. My vision was to use technology to offer customers the best possible experience at every stage. The disruptive philosophy of making things simpler and more straightforward was not just about convenience.

Our view was, and still is, that we all need to have a more open relationship with money. People get themselves into debt because they don't understand how much they've spent and how much they can spend before more money goes into their account.

Without  transparency, things quickly  spiral out of control. Our technology also offers financial inclusion through a 24/7, always on, digital customer service. This is particularly important for those  with disabilities, care responsibilities, or life commitments which don't follow traditional working hours. It's been a bonus for our growing SME customer base too who are often too busy to speak to their bank during the working day. We've created a financial hub to help our customers easily manage their finances. It's also, dare I say it, enjoyable to use.

Did we succeed in this vision of making the customer number one? I'll let others be the judge. Starling has been named as the Best British Bank every year for the past four years and we are a Which? recommended provider.

We launched our app in 2017, by the way. We have 2.5 million customer accounts, including 400,000 small and medium sized business customers, equivalent to 6% of the SME market. We are frequently named in as the most switched­ to UK bank in the Competition and Markets Authority's quarterly figures. When Covid hit, it was the right thing to step up and play our part. We quickly spoke to the Treasury and to regulators and became an accredited lender for the Covid-19 business interruption loans (BBLS, CBLS and the Recovery Loan Scheme). 

Our view was, and still is, that we all need to have a more open relationship with money. 

Starling is a very British success story. We've created more than 1,550 jobs in the UK, in Cardiff, London and Southampton. In October 2020 we became profitable on a monthly basis. Our revenues increased by 600% in 2019/20.

Starling is enhancing competition in financial services by broadening consumer choice. It has become a mainstream retail bank that customers trust, competing head-on with the Big 5 UK banks in the market for retail and SME accounts.

So far, we have lent over £2.2 billion helping over 55,000 SMEs throughout the pandemic to get back on their feet. We are now working together with these businesses on repayments and, if they need more time or a payment holiday, we do our best to change the terms to support them a little longer.

We're not taking our position for granted. Our vision of making money simpler has developed into a number of complementary campaigns. We were the first UK bank to introduce a gambling block, allowing customers to block payments to betting establishments and merchants.

Most recently, Starling Bank has spoken up to encourage better laws to crack down on scams. Online scammers saw an opportunity in Covid-19, defrauding customers out of a record £479 million in 2020. While we welcomed the draft Online Safety Bill, we believe that it can go a lot further.

Social media platforms are not taking full responsibility for the content posted on their sites or apps. Many people can't tell the difference between an ad on social media and content that's not an ad and financial regulators don't have sufficient power to protect the public from scams. We'd like to see measures to tackle financial fraud through paid-for adverts online.

A starting  point would be to expand the definition of 'illegal content' so that it includes fraud offences, alongside terrorism and child sexual exploitation and to remove the exemption of 'paid-for advertisements' so they are considered regulated content. We would also like measures to prevent firms that are not approved by the Financial Conduct Authority from communicating  financial promotions  through their channels.

There's more to be done though. Our inhouse team is very willing to assist Government and Parliamentarians from all parties with their work on this. We have extensive research, case studies and statistics on this subject and, indeed, any matter concerning tech and banking. Everyone can work together to change banking for good.

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