We spoke to Megan Caywood, co-founder and Chief Platform Officer of Starling Bank about the challenges and virtues of building the world’s best current account
So Megan, what do you do at Starling?
I’m the chief platform officer here at Starling. I had the good fortune of joining quite early on in the company’s lifecycle and into a leadership position – so I’ve worked across a whole number of different projects in the company.
My main focus is really on our APIs,(Application Programming Interface – how an app communicates) our developer platform and our marketplace. The marketplace being how we integrate with other third party products and services.
How would you describe the transformation in modern banking?
Banks were reasonably good at keeping up with technological change, up until the banking crisis in 2008. Since then we’ve seen a rapid divergence because in 2008 we saw a number of really transformative pieces of technology come to market. For example, that was the year the iPhone launched, which obviously created the app store which gave rise to a whole number of awesome apps and services being delivered that were mobile-first. These products, compared to what the banks were offering really started to drive a wedge between the two.
One of the biggest changes since then is that the UK the government has enabled new tech companies to get a full banking license. What we’ve seen is these tech-based newcomers prompting traditional institutions to think of improving their products and services. Right now, the transformation lies in user experience, the mobile focus, as well as an increased importance placed on transparency around fees and pricing.
And these developments allow Starling to exist. So what are the kinds of things you’ve approached differently?
Starling is a mobile-only bank. We have no branch locations, and we only use cloud hosting on AWS and the Google Cloud platform. We really focus on having a truly seamless process. For example, to open a new account you can do it all on your phone in less than a few minutes. Now that we’ve launched our business accounts, somebody can open a full business account in less than 10 minutes on your phone.
What we’re really known for in the industry, which is very different from the traditional banking business model, is the marketplace. Previously banks would incentivise customers to join their current account, with some sort of loss-making introductory offers such as cash back on spending or a lump sum of cash for joining. Then they would make most of their money by upselling higher profit financial products such as insurance, savings & investments, and mortgages.
We really put a lot of effort into trying to take things that used to be very painful to do, or took a lot of time, and just make them easy. All while giving our customers transparency over their options.
At Starling, we purely want to be the world’s best current account. We don’t also want to be the world’s best insurance or mortgage providers. Instead of upselling higher profit products, we realise that there has been a rise of Fintech companies that have come to market and they look at solving customer problems better, with a better pricing for customers. So rather than trying to replicate all of those services, we have this marketplace (which is effectively an App store) of other financial products and services that connect to Starling.
Our vision is that we enable our customers to understand their options from a whole variety of products across the market and see what choice is best for them. They can then connect and use these products within Starling.
How much responsibility do you want to take on, based on what you have on offer in the Marketplace? Is there a vetting process? How are these partners on-boarded?
We are very driven towards finding companies that sit within our brand, share our values around fairness and transparency, have very simple user flows and fair prices for customers. After that they pass our due diligence, we go through their data protection, their information security, we make sure they do not plan on selling their customers’ data for marketing purposes or create derivative data.
That being said, we’re trying to facilitate an open marketplace. We’re building it out from a technology perspective. If you meet the API requirements, and the due diligence requirements or you’re on the Open Banking directory you can easily plug in. That way we can get any number of apps and services in, and customers can have a hub for all of their different products and services.
So, if I were to try and convince someone who has been using a high street bank for 30 years to take the leap, how would I go about it?
What I would recommend to those that are curious or hesitant is to download Starling and try it. It takes less than a few minutes to open an account, it’s completely free and we pay interest on deposits. Thanks to the no-fees foreign exchange we have in place, you’d be saving money over any other card.
For the full interview with Megan, head over to the Loqbox page on Medium.
Starling Bank is a ‘challenger bank,’ offering personal and business current accounts and is available to download free on Android and iOS.
This post was written and compiled by the credit experts behind Loqbox – a completely free way to build your credit history by saving a little each month. To sign up or read more about the clever way Loqbox works, head to Loqbox.co.uk.