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“Starling is firing on all cylinders”: CEO Anne Boden on how the bank is thriving during COVID-19

The challenger bank's CEO says that the physical distance between employees has actually brought the organisation closer together not least through weekly ‘Ask Anne’ sessions.

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Anne Boden/Starling Bank

This is Part 2 of our interview with Anne Boden. Missed Part 1 yesterday? Catch up here: Starling’s Anne Boden on how coronavirus could change the face of banking

At the helm of Starling Bank is Anne Boden. She is a veteran of the finance world, having helped some of the big banks weather the storm of the last recession, and other financial crises, before turning her hand to running her own bank.

Boden quit her job back in 2014 for the “impossible” challenge of starting a new bank, and nearly six years later Starling is still ploughing on, releasing more and more products every month and continuing to grow its customer numbers.

AltFi caught up with Anne (over the phone) last week to see how Starling is coping despite this period of uncertainty.

To furlough, or not to furlough?

Earlier this month it was revealed that Starling, and rival Monzo,were to furlough staff as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

But, just last week, Starling made a complete U-turn and announced it was no longer furloughing the 41 employees as previously reported.

When asked about this change in direction Boden told AltFi: “We're a bank and therefore our staff have to be properly trained and they have to do the proper induction and have to prove to everybody that they are going to give customers great service.”

“And when we were exiting the London and Southampton offices, we still had several people who had not done the minimum induction training that we insist upon so we had to furlough them.”

Despite having limited capacity due to remote working, Starling devised a new training platform, a buddy system and redefined roles so that staff could return to work.

New internal training platforms are not the only thing the digital bank has produced during the lockdown.

Products, products, products

It’s safe to say that Starling has been on a tear lately when it comes to launching new products.

Boden told AltFi that it’s “all about doing things that are relevant at the moment.”

Since the government ordered the public to stay home, Starling has launched a number of products to help its customers who might be feeling a tug on their purse strings from coronavirus-related economic disruption.

It introduced a Coronavirus Support Scheme to give financially-struggling customers a three-month interest holiday on overdrafts, as well as the Connected Card to help those self-isolating get the essential items they need.

“It looks like having a real customer need is energising everybody. We are very efficient. Starling was built in the cloud and so all of our technology is capable of operating in a very resilient, secure and distributed way,” said Boden.

“It’s relatively easy for us to work in this new world where people are working from lots of different locations on lots of different products. We launched our cheque imaging product. We've launched Connected Cards. And of course, we're getting ready for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS),” she added.

Despite all the successes the digital bank has seen recently, Boden says she doesn’t like tooting her own horn too much.

“We're doing really well. It's horrible to say because we are going through a horrible time, and many many people are suffering, with health problems and emotional problems and money problems.”

While the constant rolling out of new products is keeping the bank occupied, Starling is also introducing new wellbeing measures closer to home.

Ask Anne

The digital bank doesn’t only want to support its customers, Starling had several wellbeing measures in place to ensure staff are prospering under lockdown too.

Starling has organised a tri-weekly ‘Ask Anne’ event whereby all 900 staff put questions in a Slack channel for the CEO to answer, which she openly admits are often difficult questions.

Boden told AltFi that despite the physical distance between employees, they’re feeling “really connected and empowered” by the communication.

“We are really engaged, delivering lots of new products and being very efficient with lots of new customers signing up. This means that morale is very high and we are energised by this. And when you’re successful, it creates more success.”

Starling has also organised staff workshops on topics like managing mental health, nutrition and physical wellbeing to help keep employees both happy and healthy.

“We're very, very energised by doing the right thing in this very, very difficult crisis,” she added.

Where others have floundered during the corona crisis, Starling under Boden’s leadership has performed.

Besides some initial missteps around furloughing employees, the bank has consistently shipped a handful of critical features and products to help the customers who need them most.

It will be interesting to watch Boden’s bank continue to grow and support SMEs in the weeks and months ahead now with the government’s CBILS seal of approval.

Yesterday we also shared some of Anne Boden’s thoughts about how coronavirus could change the face of banking by finally seeing an end to physical branches and cash being a thing of the past in Part 1 of our interview with the CEO.

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