Starling Bank, the challenger bank recently named as the Best British Bank of 2018, has CX firmly on its mind

Starling Bank, one of the UK’s first digital only challenger banks, is known for its fast service and straightforward banking. Julian Sawyer, Starling’s COO, explains how important customer experience is to the evolution of the bank from product development to business growth.

Tell us more about Starling Bank, including what makes your vision unique?

Starling is a completely different kind of bank. Back in 2014, during her role as Chief Operating Officer of Allied Irish Bank, our founder Anne Boden became interested in how financial technology could be used to help customers manage their money. She also came to realise that the only way to do this was to start her own bank. And so that’s what she did.

Anne brought together a team, all of whom recognised that after the financial crisis in 2008, so much had changed – but not in banking. Our vision is to ensure that banking goes through a revolution, putting customers at the centre of everything we do and giving them digital tools to help them manage their money, all from one app.

In early 2016 Starling secured funding of £48 million ($70 million). Later that year, we were granted a banking licence by the Bank of England, enabling us to build the UK’s first mobile-only current accounts. Less than a year after launching in the App Store in May 2017, we were voted Best British Bank and Best Current Account Provider at the Smart Money People awards. We currently offer mobile-only personal accounts and business accounts and have plans to launch a euro account in the future.

Starling Bank recently became the first mobile-only bank to offer a business banking account: in your opinion, what are the challenges associated with being a first mover in offering new types of customer experiences?

There’s no doubt that being the first to offer a completely new product presents challenges. As a first mover there is no previous example of process to follow, or previous mistakes to learn from. It’s also harder to anticipate customer response to a new product launch that they perhaps haven’t come across before or feels unfamiliar to them.

However, being groundbreakers is also very exciting. We have an incredibly talented team at Starling who are brilliant problem solvers. Our key to understanding customer response is our Community – the platform through which Starling customers can discuss new features, updates and tell us what they like and what’s missing.

To provide innovative solutions for businesses, we’ve tried to smooth out all the friction associated with traditional business bank accounts – customers can open a business account in 10 minutes, not 10 days.

As Starling Bank is at the forefront of digital banking, how and who do you choose to benchmark your experience against? Do you even believe benchmarking is important with Starling Bank’s current position?

Looking forward is always better than looking sideways. We’re the first mobile-only bank to offer personal accounts, business accounts, connect to the Current Account Switching Services (CASS), become a direct member of the Faster Payments Scheme and SEPA, use 100% cloud based technologies and gain approval for our Marketplace enabling API integration with third-parties. We are also the first and only digital bank to offer all of the following: Google Pay, Samsung Pay, FitBit Pay, Garmin Pay and in-app provisioning of Apple Pay. We’re creating our own benchmarks for the industry.

Based on your experience, what are the main pain-points that customers usually experience when banking online and/or via mobile?

Even the simple action of taking laptops out of the equation instantly makes digital banking easier. Managing your money from one app is transformative. All you need is your smartphone – no more card readers, spreadsheets or frustrating phone calls waiting to speak to your bank to cancel a card or tell them you’re going abroad. You can set up new payments, split bills, check your monthly spend, lock your card if you’ve lost it and send a message to our 24/7 customer service in-app, with only a few taps.

Are there any key trends and/or technologies that you feel will impact the customer experience element in banking (and any other industries) over the next year or so?

The rise of online banking and of digital challengers has already had a huge impact on traditional banks who are closing more and more branches every week. However this also means that there is a gap in service. Physical branches are closing, but the online services and banking apps are not being updated and improved at the same rate – not even close. Starling has been built from scratch by the digital generation – we are able to deliver the fast, intuitive, secure service that people are looking for. Our focus on faster banking, keeping customers updated on payments with features such as real time notifications, and an attention to detail when it comes to UX and UI is transforming the customer experience of banking. We expect these features to become the norm and as such we are raising the game for the other industry players or customer expectations.

In terms of specific technologies that will impact banking in the next year, Artificial Intelligence will be key. Further down the line, we believe that we will move towards a cashless society in which banking will become more invisible. For example, people will be able to walk into a store, do their shopping and be charged on their way out without having to queue and pay at a till.

About the Author:

As Chief Operating Officer, Julian Sawyer oversees business operations, including payment systems, card operations, customer service, human resources and supplier relationships. Julian worked as a management consultant at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and EY, specialising in large-scale transformation in the cards and payments industry.

He set up his own financial services consultancy, Bluerock, which he ran for thirteen years before selling it in 2012. After many years as a consultant, joining Starling gave Julian the opportunity to put all his learnings into practice, to build a bank with an amazing team of true professionals. He enjoys working at a fintech business since he loves delivering things, making things happen and moving things forward at pace.

More about the Vantage Series:

This post is part of the Vantage series by KAE that provides a fresh perspective and hears first-hand from various players across the FinTech & CX ecosystem.

KAE will be posting a number of interviews with companies that share their candid viewpoints and to really get under the skin of the FinTech world and Customer Experience within various industries.

If you would like to share your views and participate in the Vantage series, feel free to reach out to us at

Written by:

Julian Sawyer