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Anne Boden: How I disrupted an industry

In her recently released autobiography Starling Bank CEO and founder Anne Boden reveals how she set up the UK's leading digital bank. This exclusive extract details the events leading up to a boardroom rebellion. 

17th Nov 2020
Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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Front cover of BANKING ON IT: How I Disrupted an Industry by Anne Boden
AnneBoden_PenguinBusiness

In this extract from Banking on IT: How I Disrupted an Industry, Anne Boden reveals how Monzo founder Tom Blomfield manoeuvred to force her to resign from Starling Bank, the company she founded.

A Near-Death Experience

As I spoke, I knew very well that what took place over the next few days was going to make or break the business, and that how I played it would be critical. It was crucial that I remained publicly supportive of Tom, even though I was very aware he was inviting my IT engineers to off-site meetings. If there was any public sign of a rift between us then we would not be able to raise money. Anything that smacked of me bad-mouthing Tom would work directly against the interests of the company. 

Inevitably, everyone was stunned by what was happening. The atmosphere in the office was awful. 

I did my best to temper the bad news by reiterating that there was at least some hope. We did still have the challenge meeting set up with the PRA/FCA [banking regulators] and we had already made some progress in terms of building the technology and apps.

“We are on a path to success,” I said to a room full of disbelieving faces. “I still believe it is just around the corner. However, I cannot do this without Tom. He is one of the finest business people I have ever met and I am not prepared to embark upon this journey without him.”

I ended the meeting by saying that everything that was happening was highly confidential and, for now, we needed to be extra careful not to allow the news to get out. I explained that I had decided to go to my house in Marlow for a couple of days, to give Tom space to come back to the office, where, hopefully, his colleagues would manage to engage with him. 

Late that evening, after I had arrived home, I received an email from Jason, who, while sounding devastated about what had happened, seemed to offer some good news. 

He wrote: 

Tom is fully engaged, as is Jonas, they will definitely give it their all tomorrow, calling everyone they have ever met for funding. The team are rallying/bonding around them. 

However, as I read on, it was clear that all was not what it seemed at first glance. 

The email from Jason went on: 

If they get funding and you don’t come to a deal, I think that they will still leave to do something else, probably with the team in tow. 

They? Tom and Jonas? Come to a deal? And now the whole team too? 

In an instant I realized I had made a tactical error. I am, by nature, an optimist and I had hoped that, given space, a way forward would be found. In reality, I had missed all the obvious signs. The rumours about Tom working to be rid of me were true. By leaving the office to come back to Marlow, I had allowed him space to engineer what was nothing less than a coup.

* * *

Following the coup attempt, Boden resisted all the pressures on her to resign from Starling and ultimately reclaimed control of her company. Tom Blomfield left Starling not long after, taking many early Starling employees in tow, to start the competing digital bank Monzo.

Initially Monzo did well alongside Starling. However, following a period of turmoil between Monzo founders and investors, Blomfield was forced to step down as CEO in 2020.

Boden ended up having the last laugh in this drama as Starling has broadened its market share while Monzo continues to flounder. For more background on, see Revolut, Starling and Monzo: Battle royal.

The full book, published by Penguin Business, is available on Amazon.

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