Starling Bank’s Anne Boden: my best investment? My career

Welsh-born fintech entrepreneur and Starling Bank founder Anne Boden - the first woman to start a bank in the UK - recalls first, worst and best investments, caravan cash, and alternative jobs.

Anne Boden, a computer science and chemistry graduate, started her career at Lloyds Bank, and worked at financial institutions including Standard Chartered, RBS and ABN AMRO before being appointed chief operating officer at Allied Irish Banks in 2013. The following year, she founded Starling, a mobile-only banking business, and is now its chief executive officer. In 2018, she was made MBE and last year published her first book, The Money Revolution.

Growing up, what did you learn about money?

I learned from a very young age just how important it is and how useful it can be in life. I still remember the wallet I had where I put all my money. I started saving from a very early age, having won on the Premium Bonds which had been bought for me as a newborn.

On Fridays, all the family sat and discussed how much we were going to spend the following week. People used to get paid in cash and we’d all figure out who had what. My father, a steelworker, and my mother, who worked in a department store, used to discuss it with us, and I remember having a say and always being included in those conversations.

I also remember going to buy our first caravan - I was given the responsibility of carrying the money. I think I was nine and it was £325.

Who takes care of the money in your house?

There’s just me.

What was your first investment?

I came to London in the summer of 1981 and bought my first flat in October in St John’s Wood. It cost £19,000 and I could just afford it. Interest rates were 15% and Lloyds Bank said that I couldn’t have a mortgage because I was too young, so I decided to go to a building society. I’d been saving at the Abbey National and for some reason I decided to go to their head office. I remember turning up at Baker Street to apply for my first mortgage.

What was your best investment? 

My career. I did an MBA in 1987 and my firm wouldn’t pay for it because they said that as soon as I qualified I’d quit. So, I paid for it myself, and when I qualified, I quit!

Another investment that also worked out well, and that I remember from when I was a child, was the first shares we bought as a family in the European Ferries Group. We bought them because it meant that we could get a discount on the ferry when we went on holiday. A lot of things in my family revolved around the family holiday.

And your worst investment?

Transferring out of a final salary pension scheme when I left Standard Chartered and transferring it to Equitable Life, because that was what people who were working around me were doing at the time.

What's the best thing about your job?

I have always been interested in money and financial affairs, and how financial services work, and now I’m having the chance to make a big change to the industry on a meaningful scale. Every day is exciting and every day is about learning about things and being able to make a difference.

And the worst thing about your job?

It’s very, very difficult to help people on an individual level. I get lots of emails and messages from people on social media asking me about financial issues and I’d love to be able to help them all, but I can’t always.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

I have always read the financial pages and money sections, and I’ve always found it fascinating. We did that at home when I was growing up. But I don’t think that’s everyone’s experience, and somehow we need to make finance interesting so people can build up knowledge over a lifetime, instead of dipping into the industry, learning about something, making a decision and then retreating.

I think people make decisions and buy financial products when they are forced into it at certain times in their lives, but really it should be much more of a continuous process. Finance is such an important issue and we shouldn’t be forced into making big financial decisions when we see an advert, or when we need to make a decision quickly.

If you had to save money, what could you do without?

I would have to cut back on eating out: I couldn’t sacrifice fashion for food.

What financial advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t worry so much! I started worrying about my pension at 21. But you need to understand that I am someone who cares about money, and is always interested in money, and that is what led me to start a bank.

What do you do for fun?

If you are starting a bank you don’t have much time for fun, but I do love choosing fabrics and furnishings for my home.

In another life, I would...

run an interior design shop. I’m a shopkeeper at heart.

Explore more articles in the Women in Finance series.

Moira O’Neill interview
Laura Foll interview
- Victoria Hasler interview
- Anna Sofat interview

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