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Women in UK fintech: Anne Boden – Starling Bank

Despite many positive changes in the sector, fintech remains a male-dominated industry. Challenging this lack of diversity is a group of female CEOs and founders in the UK fintech scene. Starling Bank founder and CEO Anne Boden is the first female pioneer in this series showcasing the identity and achievements of leading women in UK fintech.

30th Jun 2020
Staff Writer AccountingWEB
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Anne Boden - Starling Bank
Anne Boden - Starling Bank

Fintech is revolutionising the world of financial technology, and the UK is at the forefront of this movement. Yet somehow, fintech remains trapped under the same gender diversity rock as its banking relatives. Half of fintechs' target audience is women, but this is still not reflected in the driving force behind it with less than 30% of UK fintech employees being women and only 17% of them holding senior roles.

“All people are impacted by diversity, so if you think you are not impacted, then look around you and see how diverse your team is because if you don’t have that diversity, then you are missing out on the opportunity to strengthen your team, experience and perspectives,” said Women in Payments founder Kristy Duncan.

“In anything we need to do in our lives, our biggest influencing drive is our gender, so if you have a team of all men, they do not understand the female perspective to how we tackle the fintech solution. We need better fintech, but it needs to be a conscious effort to support the needs of everyone,” added Duncan.

In a bid to make some of the powerful female voices in fintech heard, this series will introduce and interview some of the most empowering women in the UK fintech scene – starting with the founder and CEO of the UK’s first mobile-only bank Anne Boden.

Anne Boden

As Starling Bank’s founder, CEO and member of its board of directors, Swansea-born Anne Boden is the most prominent female figure in UK fintech.

As a leading Welsh tech entrepreneur, Boden has held key financial positions, including COO at AIB and head of EMEA at RBS. She is currently a member of Tech Nation’s fintech delivery panel and has received an MBE for services to fintech. Boden has raised a total of £363m for her startup, is a published author, and features in Forbes's global top 50 women working in tech.

What led you to get into the fintech business?

Technology has changed everything, from the way we shop, to the way we communicate with one another. Banking has not taken advantage of the changes in technology over the last ten years and I wanted to change that. So I founded Starling, which is fully digital and has been built to give people a fairer, tech-savvy and more human alternative to the banks of the past. 

What achievement are you most proud of?

In just six-and-a-half years [since founding Starling] we have won Best British Bank three times, attracted 1.4 million customers and changed the banking landscape. I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved so far. What’s really gratifying is seeing the legacy banks copying some of our features - it shows that we are disrupting an entire industry and making banking better for everyone.

Why is fintech still such a male-dominated industry?

I believe it’s partly to do with the ideas we have about the kind of jobs that ‘men do’ and ‘women do’. We operate at the axis of two traditionally male-dominated professions, banking and technology. 

Banking has long been dominated by men, but this wasn’t always the case with technology. From the Second World War to the 1960s, women represented an important engine of growth in tech. My heroes from this era include the film star Hedy Lamarr, who, with the composer George Antheil, developed a radio system essential to the creation of GPS and wifi technology. 

There’s also Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician celebrated in the film Hidden Figures, who contributed to America’s space programme. 

I’m a computer scientist by training myself and believe that the success of these extraordinary women shows the importance of breaking down stereotypes about who can do different kinds of jobs.

What do you think can be done about this?

We have to lead by example. There’s no shortage of evidence to support the view that diverse teams perform better in the workplace overall. And we need to remind people of this and of the fact that gender is just one element of diversity we should be looking at. 

The business case for diversity of all sorts is now widely accepted in management courses and boardrooms around the world, even if it is not always rigorously applied in practice.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to emulate what you have achieved in this field?

Make your own opportunities and make yourself known.  No one is waiting to open doors for you, there is no escalator to success - you have to make this yourself. All the while remembering that success creates more success.

What lessons would you pass on to the next generation of fintech pioneers?

Flexibility is the key to success in the fintech world. Being able to quickly adapt to the needs of customers, and staying relevant to them, allows a business to prosper. 

What is the ultimate prize in the fintech race? 

The ultimate prize is becoming a world-leading bank and disrupting the industry so that banking is fairer for everyone.

Having seen Starling’s news on funding and slack integration, it seems like you’re getting stronger in the small business market during a particularly difficult economic and social period. Has the crisis accelerated your strategy or impacted on it?

Becoming an accredited lender under the government-backed Bounce Back Loan Scheme has been a game-changer for us. In the space of a few weeks, we’ve already lent more than £500m of BBLS loans to around 190,000 small businesses affected by the pandemic. Being there for these customers who needed us, has been very important to us.

One in three of our business customers now use the integrations which are available to them in our marketplace. We hope that introducing new companies such as Slack, the messaging platform, will help our customers to work better from home during the current climate. Overall our business numbers are growing and we now have over 177,000 customers.

In part two of Leading women in UK fintech, Xavier Analytics founder Helen Lloyd shares insight on what it means to be a female leader of a fast-moving fintech startup and how fintech’s diversity issues should be addressed.

Replies (3)

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02nd Jul 2020 12:33

The general populace is thankfully becoming aware of the situation with conflict theory and its various theoretical offspring. Aware of its origins in marxist thought, and aware there is a serious problem with Universities who have failed to properly distinguish theory from fact, thus poisoning the well for quite some time.

We need to move away from tick box diversity, which yields from the aforementioned, back peddle somewhat, and continue with equal opportunities.

The tide is turning, dont be caught on the wrong side. Go woke, go broke, its coming for industry who have gone over the top with the ideology.

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02nd Jul 2020 17:59

Equality of opportunity not equality of outcome is desirable. Jordan Peterson has some very valid discussions on this. In the tech sector there is a shortage of qualified workers in general, if 80% of graduates in computer science / related degrees are male then it’s an impossibility to have a 50:50 balance in the workplace and employers have the right to select the best candidate for the role. There are industries where gender imbalances happen but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything sinister. Isn’t this just one of these cases ? Look at nursing or the care industries which tend to attract more females. Female Psychology graduates far outnumber male. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article in relation to the sewage, mining, fishing, or rubbish collection industry pointing out it’s mainly men doing these dangerous and dirty jobs.. furthermore asking what can be done about this to attract more females.

Thanks (1)
By FirstTab
02nd Jul 2020 18:13

Please keep articles of this nature coming.

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