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My first boss: Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank

·5-min read
Anne Boden had an ambitious banking goal of using the best technology in the world. Photo: Starling Bank
Anne Boden had an ambitious banking goal of using the best technology in the world. Photo: Starling Bank

Anne Boden, 62, founded Starling Bank in 2014 after a distinguished, 30-year career at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, among them Allied Irish Banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and ABN AMRO.

Starling has been voted Best British Bank for the last four years, while 45% of female staff are senior managers. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018 and published her best-seller Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry in 2020.

"I was a fresh-faced, enthusiastic computer science graduate the first time I had a job at Lloyds Bank in 1982. I wanted to change the world and learn new things in banking technology and eventually did my training for a year with my first boss. He was a 10-4pm guy. With an uninspiring, jaded boss, I was trying everything and I made the decision to fight back, to take it as a challenge. It wasn’t going to hold me back.

Many years later I worked under my first female boss. June Drewry was global CIO at Aon and I was the European equivalent. It was my first big job. She had also done a computer science degree and for me she modelled women being successful.

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We went through a very tough time together. She was CIO in 9/11 when Aon’s New York headquarters took a direct hit. She was in charge of all the global technology in 55 countries and she was away in London with me when employees lost their lives and thousands lost their workplace.

We figured out how to get the organisation up and running. It was a day in which I saw a very inspiring woman come to the fore. I thought that was how women leaders become successful.

Watch: Anne Boden on how she's transforming the world of banking

Her outlook was that we had a huge opportunity to grow as individuals and grasp it. That is all about connecting with interesting people and taking care to educate and understand yourself.

I’ve had lots of great jobs around the world working in banking technology. But I came to realise that banks just weren’t embracing the possible – everybody had changed the way they were buying music and shopping differently – were inward looking, with old fashioned ways relating to customers. I started my entrepreneurship by solving this important problem, not because I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

And so I quit my job to start a bank and people thought I was crazy. I grasped every bit of knowledge I could get in my research. I read lots of biographies of entrepreneurs and flicking through the pages you normally find a near-death moment. It’s surviving those which is the differentiator.

LISBON , PORTUGAL - 7 November 2019; Anne Boden, CEO, Starling Bank, on Centre stage during the final day of Web Summit 2019 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)
Anne Boden, CEO, Starling Bank, on centre stage at the Web Summit 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

I went through a tough time with Starling, to raise money and convince people that a woman like me could build a bank that had never been done before. We now have 2.7 million customers but when I knocked on the doors of investors in 2014 saying that Starling would take on the existing banks and win, no one believed me. Starling has done it in its own way. Now we are going on an international journey by launching our software business to banks around the world.

Read more: Starling Bank CEO on how she switched her 35-year career in banking to starting her own

I am Welsh and 5ft tall and I suppose that I am a very unusual bank CEO and an unusual fintech leader, who are usually men in their 30s with beards.

The important thing is that throughout your career you can grow; you can read any book or listen to podcasts and use that to develop your ambition. In my early years I was ambitious and surrounded by people who weren’t. I never let it get me down. I used it to fire myself up and go after goals that were bigger and bigger.

Starling has been voted Best British Bank for the last four years.
Starling has been voted Best British Bank for the last four years.

I spent most of my time in a Marlow coffee shop when launching Starling, getting out my laptop and reaching out to ask people and receiving lots of rejections.

In 2014, I was in the States speaking with investors and I saw June for the first time in a decade. I think she was proud of how bold I had become in starting a bank, pulling it off and setting audacious goals.

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I had seen June leading a whole organisation through very difficult days. It was this role model that led to me knocking on the doors with a banking goal of using the best technology in the world and being fair to customers.

June retired in 2009 but is still an executive coach and works with senior management to build skills and when to say no. With a moral compass of an organisation, we have to lead from the front and say when things are wrong or right. What I am proud of most at Starling is what it stands for. I learned a lot of that from June."

Starling offers personal, business, joint, teen, euro and dollar accounts alongside a child card and a range of lending products

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