Questioned as to whether banks’ history of failing to innovate is what paved the way for challengers to flourish, Anne Boden, founder and CEO of Starling Bank, explained to the Sibos audience that while big banks struggled to transform their platforms for years, a slew of neobanks emerged with convincing value propositions.
The arrival of Covid-19 further pushed users down the digital path: “As a result, some of those organisations survived and some of them failed. I think we had a shake-out in the industry, and there are definite winners and losers.”
It is the next phase which is of interest to Boden, as the incumbent banks, challenger banks and fintechs which have not reached profitability will “probably die away” and those that have market share will compete against traditional banks.
“So, what are the traditional banks going to do? I think there's a gap in the next two or three years where they could respond and they could try to make hay whilst the fintechs that are not profitable, and having difficulty raising money are suffering,” Boden commented.
Perhaps it is this line of thinking which has further stoked the fire for Starling Bank’s global expansion plans. While the bank put a pin in its multi-year efforts to gain a banking licence in Ireland to push through a European expansion earlier this year, it has turned its focus toward rolling out its SaaS business, Engine.
“We know what we’re really good at is building technology and the culture to run very successful, very profitable banks. What we’re doing is allowing other banks around the world, outside the UK to get some of the ‘Starling magic’.”
Speaking to Finextra ahead of Sibos, CEO of Engine, Sam Everington also made clear that Starling has always been “a technology business at its core.”
“Everything people use in Starling from the outside world is our own technology. From the application origination and capture systems, through to the core ledgers, payment processing, financial crime systems, chat handling, it is all in-house technology that's been built up and developed by the team. This gives us a differentiating experience of deeply personalisable banking products and real control of the cost and of the servicing experience because it works as one unified platform.”
Starling started work on payments services in 2018, and began supplying payments access and then wider technology to other institutions, with 20-25 institutions using parts of the bank’s technology stack today.
“Engine has been a UK tech business for a while, and splitting Engine offers to really focus us strategically on growing that business, and growing it internationally.”
Boden and Everington are recently back from travels to Australia, spending time with the big four Australian banks about the Engine proposition.
Without explicitly stating that Australia is high on the expansion agenda, Everington noted that in looking for markets with opportunity for disruption, “a market with underserved customers, with typically a small set of incumbents which absolutely dominates the market is very appealing to us.” It helps that Australian banks hold the growth and ambition that Starling’s Engine seeks to connect with.
This is in contrast to markets like the US, where he commented that the “regulatory market is very different” and remains very branch and relationship based.
Boden concluded that her key focus is building out Engine. “I’m technologist at heart, and when I built Starling, I made a list of 17 technology related things that were holding me back in my platform in my ability to give great service that customers could afford. I said we can build a platform that solves those 17 things. We’ve done it, so this is the next stage of our journey.”