Guest Opinion: Starling CEO Anne Boden reveals how banks can gain the love of their customers
“Our customer loyalty stems from the fact that we’ve spent a lot of time talking to people,” says Anne Boden, founder of mobile-only challenger bank Starling. A week after picking up the Industry Achievement award at The Card & Payments Awards, she talks about breaking away from the world of traditional financial services to create a totally new banking experience centred around customer engagement.
The idea of customer loyalty is now very different when you compare the old world of financial services with the emergence of fintech.
Before setting up Starling in 2014, I was chief operating officer for Allied Irish Bank, and prior to that with the Royal Bank of Scotland.
During my time in this “traditional” world of financial services I found that customers were usually unhappy with their banking experience, but felt afraid of leaving.
The more time customers spent with a bank, the less likely they were to move on to a better provider – they worried about what would happen next and whether they could come back if they changed their mind.
I read one statistic that said people were more likely to get a divorce than switch banks. So when they did, it was a big deal!
Why has this been the case? Well, when it comes down to our personal finances, money is emotional and money is security.
And while traditional banks have done a lot to try and instil a sense of security in their customers so they don’t switch to a competitor, this type of loyalty isn’t one rooted in love.
The world of financial services should be about loving your provider’s experience. Yet, traditional banks have so far failed to deliver a special and personalised relationship to their customers that might earn that love.
When I quit my job at Allied Irish Bank in 2014 and told people that I was going to start a bank they thought I was crazy. But there was an obvious need to build something from the ground up.
After years of working with traditional banks, talking to their customers and asking them what they wanted from banking, it was easy to see that, while every other industry was changing with the times, the one I worked in wasn’t!
Even after the financial crisis in 2008, banks were just trying to put things back together again the way they were – there was no real interest to disrupt the status quo.
In my mind, the only solution was to build my own bank and create a community around it.
Starling is a mobile-only bank that puts people back in control of their money. With 24/7 support, speedy set up and smart tools that keep up with our customers’ lifestyle, our full service app is all about clarity and control.
We now have a community of 15000 customers, who all contribute to building our bank further through their views on what we are doing right or wrong.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing when Starling began, and there were a few surprising false starts when we were building it from the ground up.
Our whole model was designed based on the feedback we got from people – our potential future customers – who tested and reviewed our platform.
We started with a flow about what Starling would look like and we made the experience as optimal as possible. The prototype was very straightforward, which we thought our customers would want.
Interestingly however, the people who tested it were initially sceptical about just how simple it was to log-in and open an account.
They felt that the app needed to have some friction, quite simply because it was a bank account they we’re setting up – if you just opened an account through a few taps on your phone, it couldn’t be a proper account in their eyes – it was too easy.
This friction had be the right sort of friction, so we changed the model and continued to do so until we got it just right for the customer.
People would come in weeks at a time to help us build the product. We approached friends and friends of friends, and then we advertised to find people we didn’t know who hadn’t heard of fintech to test our banking experience.
We built and continue to build a bank based on customer data and feedback. Features are added based on what our customers tell us, and we’re constantly evolving to deliver a special and personalised relationship.
And since launching Starling, we’ve found that those who receive this experience are far more likely to let us know just how happy this makes them.
It seems that customers who finally get out of that bad relationship with their old bank feel free – and they want to shout about it!
What’s more, it’s almost always a situation where it would have been easy for their old bank provider to help, but they chose not to!
I’m constantly surprised by the type of vocabulary that people use to describe their new banking experience with Starling!
Our customers often leave feedback on the app store and the emotion they express is the opposite of what I encountered when I was working with the big banks.
We’re regularly told how ‘amazing’ Starling is, how we have A+ customer service and are better than the rest. They say we are quick, easy, “play fair” and that their old banks didn’t love them like we do.
We even get the odd confession-like feedback – like an AA meeting – where people announce that after 20 years with their old bank, they’ve finally managed to let go and are now happy with their new Starling experience.
“This is how old banks should be!” is another response we often receive.
I never expected all this emotion from people – it’s been the biggest surprise for me at and the Starling team.
If you want customers to love you and if you want customers to stay loyal, you’ve got to be there for them when they need you 24/7 – with a touch point that responds to their concerns.
This constant approach of active consumer engagement has been the key to why Starling stands out, and why our customers love us!
There was a time when people were less likely to switch banks than get a divorce. Why? All banks looked the same!
Starling looks very different – we have broken the mould. Our customer loyalty stems from the fact that we’ve spent a lot of time talking to people – and even today we listen to everyone!
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