PayExpo Europe 2018

8-9 October 2019
Business Design Centre, London

Digital banking pioneer - Starling Bank

Digital banking pioneer - Starling Bank

Digital banks are reimagining the way people manage their personal finances. A focus on customer experience, transparency and convenience has helped these new players gain traction, record investment and most importantly, customers.

We caught up with Julian Sawyer, COO of Starling Bank ahead of his presentation at PayExpo Europe to find out what obstacles Starling Bank has faced, how they have coped with steep competition and their predictions for the future of digital banking.

Julian Sawyer, Starling Bank Julian Sawyer
Starling Bank


How does Starling Bank stand out from what is now a significant crowd of challenger banks?

Starling Bank, with its mobile only current accounts, was the first digital challenger bank:

  • to become a full member of the Faster Payments Scheme and offer Sponsorship to non-members
  • to be built from scratch and develop open APIs for third-party FinTech companies
  • to use 100% cloud based technologies
  • to offer in-app provision of Apple/Android Pay
  • to be connected to the Current Account Switching Service (CASS)

We move with and adapt to our customers’ needs. We keep up with their dynamic lives with fast-paced implementation and continuous updates and improvements to our banking app. Communication within the Starling Community and the community who work at Starling means we can keep our finger on the pulse when it comes to what the consumer wants. We do one product – a mobile-only Current Account - but we do that one product very well. The way that we open doors to other services is through the Starling Marketplace, a connective platform enabled by open APIs. Our APIs therefore put us in a leading position to create partnerships with other FinTechs and start ups, giving our customers more choice in terms of services such as loans and mortgages and expanding this digital ecosystem. We have taken the time to build, test and improve our APIs before launching which now means that the 40,000 customers who pre-registered have access to our a product which can empower them to understand their money and lead healthy financial lives.

We’ve seen challenger banks taking on different strategies. Some, like Tandem and Atom, have gone with conventional banking software from the likes of FIS Global and Fiserv but you and Monzo have chosen the more challenging route of building yours from scratch - the ‘full stack’ approach.

What advantage does this give you in the long run?

As our CEO Anne Boden said, “Starting a bank is not for the faint-hearted. But it’s ever so worthwhile.” Building our own bank from scratch means that we can give our customers exactly what they want, not what the suppliers offer us. Our ‘full stack’ approach reduces costs and yields greater flexibility and control for our service.

Starling Bank

The digital banking mantra is clearly ‘the customer comes first’ and consumers are starting to expect a lot more from financial services providers.

Are you at all worried that the incumbents banks will catch on, start offering their customers a similar experience and trample on the digital bank USP?

Incumbent banks are bound by layers of outdated systems and established patterns of behaviour in terms of serving their customers which would be difficult to change from the inside. Our CEO Anne Boden recognised this from her thirty years in the banking industry and decided that the only way to truly put the customer first was to build a bank from the ground up, placing technology and the customer at its heart. It is for this reason that Starling will stay ahead of the curve when it comes to integrating banking and technology and creating the best for our customers.  

Building a bank from the ground up is not an easy task, what was the main obstacle Starling Bank have experienced along the way?

Passion and perseverance paid off when we gained our full banking licence in July 2016 - a great achievement. Today our main challenges are learning exactly what our customers want so that we can deliver it, and hiring the best talent.

Starling Bank Card


Faster Payments, Starling Bank

Being an innovative challenger bank you recently launched your new Faster Payments service, have you found this has increased consumer usage of your service?

Our Faster Payments service and consumer service are enabled by the same Faster Payments membership but are distinct from one another. We decided to become a Sponsor bank of Faster Payments and extend the service to non-members due to our awareness of an increased demand for access to a digital, real-time payments system.

Starling Bank has helped disrupt the banking sector and introduced new ways of thinking, where do you see the industry going?

The industry is going digital. The speed, convenience and connectivity of managing your money completely from your mobile is revolutionising banking, which may cease to revolve around buildings and be 100% cloud based, a key feature of Starling. A further key element of Starling, enabled by technology, is real-time payments and real-time notifications – a feature many traditional banks are yet to catch up with.

Julian presented the session 'With 159 logins every second, can we deny the rise of mobile banking' on day two of PayExpo Europe 2017

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Is your long-term strategy to stick to digital only or would you consider creating a brick and mortar bank?

The only Starling bricks and mortar will be the office which holds our growing and diverse team of technologists, artists, money experts, designers, and marketers. Solid banks and static banks which cannot adapt and change according the customer’s needs and expectations and deliver in today’s digital world.

About Julian

Julian Sawyer, Starling BankAs Chief Operating Officer, Julian oversees business operations, including payment systems, card operations, customer service, human resources and supplier relationships. Julian also runs the Starling Payment Services division providing Faster Payments sponsorship.  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.

If he wasn’t working at Starling, Julian would probably be enjoying some time in the house he has just built in Kent or spending a couple of months exploring New Zealand – the top destination on his bucket list.

  • PayExpo is fantastic because it has thought provoking discussions and is a great place to connect with other leaders in the industry.
    Megan Caywood
    Starling Bank
  • Very well organised, covering all the key topics with an inclusive and relevant speaker and exhibitor base.
    Helene Panzarino
    Rainmaking Colab Fintech
  • Very wide ranging and varied content with a good mix of fact and opinions, hotly debated.
    Ian Dawson
    Hays Travel Limited
  • This is both a networking event and a trade show, and should be in everyone's diary.
    Paul Love Twelves
    Open Payments Cloud
  • Had a great time across the two days, very well looked after and heard some interesting things about the industry. Look forward to returning next year!
    Jon Ellis
    Atom Bank
  • PayExpo 2018 was fantastic with a great variety in exhibitors as well as content for talks and debates. We found some very good potential partners that will help us make a major impact in the banking industry over the next few years.
    Simon Phillips
    Money Global Limited
  • I really liked the sessions and panel discussions and I am looking forward to some more presentations.
    Liisi Kirsipuu
  • I found the event very interesting and lively, I really liked the presentations in theatre 2 as I am coming from a payments area I found them very informative.
    Martynas Rajuncios
    Lietuvos Bankas


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