Trailblazing Tips: Banking on Innovation

In this episode of the First Buck podcast, host Nic Cary interviews Anne Boden, founder and former CEO of Starling Bank. Boden shares her journey as an entrepreneur and offers insights and advice for early-stage entrepreneurs. She discusses her first job at Lloyd's Bank, the importance of perseverance and taking risks, and the challenges she faced in starting her own bank. Boden also talks about her upcoming book, "The Female Founders Playbook," which provides guidance for female entrepreneurs. She emphasizes the need to hire for strengths rather than weaknesses and highlights the importance of embracing stress and seeking inspiration from other entrepreneurs' stories. 

300x300 1st Buck Podcast Thumbnails - Feb 2024 (300 x 300 px) (7)

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Anne Boden's career journey: from Lloyd's Bank to founding Starling Bank
  • Perseverance and taking risks: why they are crucial for entrepreneurs
  • Challenges of starting a bank: insights into the hurdles Boden faced and overcame
  • Advice for early-stage entrepreneurs: practical tips from Boden’s own experiences
  • The female founders playbook: an overview of Boden’s upcoming book and what readers can expect
  • Hiring for strengths: the importance of building a team based on strengths rather than compensating for weaknesses
  • Embracing stress: how to manage and leverage stress for success
  • Seeking inspiration: the value of learning from other entrepreneurs' journeys


In this episode…

Nicolas Cary welcomes Lisa to discuss the lessons learned during her career journey. 

  • Nic and Anne discuss Boden’s Path to Entrepreneurship, reflecting on the lessons learned from her time at Lloyd's Bank to the inception of Starling Bank
  • Anne shares Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles in entrepreneurship, including the essential nature of risk-taking and perseverance
  • Key Advice for Female Entrepreneurs is explored, with Boden offering insights from her upcoming book.
  • Discussion on Hiring Practices that focus on the importance of recognizing and valuing strengths in team members
  • Anne emphasizes the Role of Stress in Growth and how to harness it positively.
    Inspiration from Other Entrepreneurs: Boden highlights how other founders’ stories can offer valuable lessons and motivation

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.

Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.

To learn more, please visit today.

Episode transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to The First Buck Podcast, where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Now, let's get started with the show.

Nic Cary  0:24

Hello and welcome to the First Buck podcast, brought to you by We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Today we're joined by Anne Boden, founder and former CEO of Starling Bank, and founded Starling Bank in 2014. After a distinguished 30 year career working with World-leading financial institutions, it became a leading bank announcing record profits in 2023. She stepped aside as CEO in June of last year, but remains on the board. Anna chronicled Starling story in banking on it. The bestseller and the Times Business book of 2020 was described by one reviewer as banking blockbuster. She's also also the author of the Money Revolution in Female Founders Playbook Out in February of 2024. So we have a lot to talk about. Widely considered a thought leader in FinTech and was awarded an MBE in 2018, and chairs the government's women-led high growth entrepreneurship task force. So we are super excited to talk with Anne and we have a little tradition here at the First Buck podcast. We have to ask you, how did you earn your first pound, euro or dollar?

Anne Boden  1:29

Yeah, my first pound was actually my first real job, but there's a bit of a backstory to that. But I was brought up in South Wales. I went to Swans University and my first job was at Lloyd's Bank in the city of London. And all of a sudden I realized that somebody was going to pay me real money for something that was intellectually challenging because I came from a family that basically worked really hard in factory sectors to earn their living. And therefore, coming up to London in the early eighties and having a great job doing great things and being paid for it was absolutely wonderful.

Nic Cary  2:19

I think that first time young adults get their first paycheck, it really is that sort of maybe milestone moment where you sort of understand a little bit of the freedom you have, but then you also start to learn that everything is a lot more expensive than you probably thought it would be. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about those maybe early days in your career starting off at Lloyd's Bank. What were maybe some of those things that you felt put you on a track to eventually become an entrepreneur? What did you learn at the bank that was really important to you?

Anne Boden  2:51

I was very fortunate. I went onto a graduate scheme and my first couple of months was actually in a high street branch of a bank where I spoke to real customers and loaded up cash machines and cash checks. They were checks in those days and took people's money in and changed into another currency. And I think it was interacting with real people in real day-to-day circumstances. And to me that was terrifying. Somebody's at the counter and wants to ask my opinion or wants a transaction and I have to be professional and do a good job. That was scary, but also quite rewarding because you get instant feedback. I also found that lots of my ideas were totally rejected by the bank. I was sitting behind the accountant keep having new ideas for how we could improve our processes and would try them out, and people didn't really like that. People wanted me to do what I was told rather than do what I thought was best. And I think that was the first sign of me trying to change the system rather than trying to fit in.

Nic Cary  4:18

Ah, I start to see some threads here regarding how you may have decided to buck the system a little bit there. So the early opportunities at Lloyd's Bank, basically that customer service experience, listening to people interacting and understanding their problems, being professional, but then ultimately finding and making suggestions about things you could improve that weren't always listened to. So earlier you talked to us about how you sort of earned your first paycheck at the bank. Talk to us about when and where you were able to, I would say maybe pivot out of the first role and into something with more responsibility. So walk us through how maybe the next stage of your career evolved.

Anne Boden  5:04

I changed jobs every four to five years, to be honest. My first job was at Lloyds Bank and I left Lloyds Bank because I wanted to a promotion, but I wasn't old enough for that promotion. So I went to Standard Chartered Bank and had a bigger job where at a company that was willing to see me as a different sort of person because people see you really the way they saw you the first time for an awful long time. So you go into a new job, you start out to the different level, and you get respect at that different level. So I went to Lloyd's Bank, I went to Standard Chartered Bank, I did an MBA, and my boss told me that if I did an MBA, I'd just leave. So they weren't going to sponsor you, and you can't have money from the bank to do an MBA because once you get the MBA, you will leave.

So I did my MBA paid for it myself, and then I left and I became a consultant. I became a consultant at Pricewaterhouse, now PWC, and worked for all the big banks in the world, but I wasn't really a consultant at heart. I love being really involved in the detail of delivering the business. And although three years at PWC was great, I had a lot of experience. I really wanted to deliver stuff, be part of a business. So I joined UBS, union Bank of Switzerland and went to Switzerland and I had a great job in Switzerland, working across Europe, really looking at the organization and finding new ways to deliver great service and great propositions to our customers. And then I was offered a job in insurance industries. So I come back to the UK and join the big insurance broker, Aon. And that was my first big board level job where my role was bringing together lots of different cultures from across the world to change the way we delivered services to customers.

And that was a fantastic role. And I was there for seven years, and I then had the opportunity to join a Dutch bank and looked after customers across 34 countries ranging from Madrid to Kazakhstan. It was a wonderful experience working with some really, really intellectually stimulating creative people around the world. And therefore, what some of the exciting areas is where you go into a country such as kastan and find really interesting, challenging dynamic innovators, and you realize that these skills are sitting all over the world, not just in the city of London. So from Avian amro to RBS, I then quit and spent 18 months looking at new ways of new businesses, new FinTech businesses. And I realized that despite the fact that I'd spent say 30 years in big institutions around the world, a lot of the things I was a hundred percent sure of were actually wrong.

I had spent so much time in large organizations learning ways of doing things, what I knew was holding me back and I needed to forget some of those skills in order to learn new skills, learn things that were relevant to the technology age that we were going into. So I had to consciously decide that certain knowledge was no longer relevant. And I remember talking to some people in a small business with five people that they were building new technology, and I said, no, no, that'll never work. That'll take you months to deliver because things work this way and what you are doing won't work. And the following morning I went into the office and they had proven me wrong. They had actually built it,

And that was the turning point for me. It was the turning point where I had to be selective from what I already knew and take new knowledge and new experience and use it together to deliver something new. So from there, I went back into working for Allied Irish banks in Dublin, and I tried to take a lot of the experience I had learned from my career and working with startups and applied in the big corporation, but 18 months in, I realized it was easier to start from scratch. It was easier, well, to build a new organization. So I quit my job to start, and most people thought I was totally mad.

Nic Cary  11:09


Anne Boden  11:09

Woman thinks she can start a bank. Nobody starts a bank. And I was a 54-year-old corporate trained woman that had never done anything in the entrepreneurship world, but I knew very well that there was an opportunity. And if I could take all the good things from my background and all the things that I'd learned in the startup world and put it together, I could create a bank like no other. And that's what we did.

Nic Cary  11:46

I think the headline of this will be she quit her job and started a bank. I just love it. Let me recap some of those moments. I don't think I ever even knew the breadth and depth of your experience across so many different banking institutions and notable businesses. So one of the things you said to me that really stood out was when you first sort of really knew that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn't, and that there's all of these people around the world that don't necessarily see themselves as that pioneering entrepreneur or a business person or someone that can kind of change the nature of their circumstances and believe in themselves. And I think your story is just such a powerful one for those that maybe sometimes look in the mirror and don't see that in themselves, but it really is in there. And one of the other things you said that really stood out to me was that sometimes a lot of the things you think are so just aren't.

And there's that, I think it was an old quote, and it's attributed sometimes I think incorrectly, but it's something along the lines of it's the things that just aren't so that hurt you the most. Meaning if you have very strong opinions or assumptions about things that are actually wrong, you have to be very, very careful about that stuff because if you end up on the wrong side of it, you can miss opportunities. And I think what you talked about was sort of all of these businesses that were just doing things the old way and you were listening to customers and you were seeing opportunities, and then technology changed and allowed you to completely reinvent how a bank could be started, how you could deliver customer service, and how you could do much more a job that could scale much faster. So I want to talk a little bit more about that sort of founding part of the company because the early days are always a bit scary, and they're also in a lot of ways, some of the most fun. A lot of entrepreneurs think they need money, they need a loan, they need venture capital to get their business started. What advice or what sort of feedback would you give to an early stage entrepreneur that's thinking about their startup idea? What are some of the things they can go through to test that?

Anne Boden  14:04

My founding story is quite different from everybody else's because I was a 54-year-old woman who had no background in entrepreneurship, knocking on doors of law firms and venture capitalists saying, I'm going to start a bank. Will you fund me? You can imagine the scene, can't you? It is a venture capitalist office, okay. They're all wandering around in sneakers and looking terribly cool, and they're all 30-year-old guys with beards. And this woman comes in and she sits in front of you and she says, okay, I think banking needs to be reinvented because we are not doing the best for customers. So I want to build a bank based on all new technology, which we will build. And they say, yes, but banking technologies cost billions and billions. Yes, yes, yes, I know that, but I think I can build all this technology and we are going to have millions of customers and we are going to take on some of the big banks of the world and we are going to be successful and make money. And yes, and we've done all of that, by the way. And they looked at me and said, thought, well, she doesn't look like a technologist. I have a computer science degree, but I don't look like a technologist.

She's the wrong sex and she's too old. Okay, so they don't say that to your face. They go, that's a great idea, good luck. So I had 200, 300 meetings before somebody invested in me. Wow. However, I couldn't raise the initial. I couldn't raise any money from the venture capitalist world. However, I spent time with the people that I knew, the people that I'd come across in my previous job and whether they were consultancy companies or whether they were my previous employers or law firms, whatever, because those people had worked with me and had some sort of flavor of what I did. And I convinced them that I would pay them if I raised money. So I funded the company for two years on the basis of getting agreements with people that I'd pay them if I raised money. And that was really hard because the pressure on me to then raise money was huge. Now, these people had invested in me and well not really invested in me. They'd put time and effort into supporting me. So I eventually hired a team and that team left because they could raise money and I couldn't.

And they create the rival bank called Monzo, and I'm left to my own. And this is all chronicled in my book, banking on it, but I'm left on my own and I have to start again, and eventually I raise the money. But it was really, really tough. And I think my advice to people is the venture capitalist world tends to look at to invest in certain sort of people and certain sort of ideas, but the majority of us are not that sort of person and don't have those ideas. So you have to look for other ways of getting that funding. So it takes a huge amount of perseverance, and if you believe in your idea, you can keep talking about your idea. Every time you tell your idea, you get feedback and you get better. But there's no typical type of founder, and therefore there's no typical type of funding.

Nic Cary  18:30

That is an extraordinary story. I'm not surprised that there's a book about it. I think one of the things having done these interviews with many founders is that the pathway to entrepreneurship is really not a straight line. And you can become an entrepreneur when you're 15 years old selling lemonade. It can happen in your twenties, it can happen in your fifties, and drawing on your personal experiences is so important. But there are a few things that really stood out to me, which is you have this vision and this strong conviction, this resilience, which is something that a lot of entrepreneurs have to develop because they're going to be told it's not going to work. It's going to be difficult. And then ultimately, the last one that really I hear written your story is just this perseverance. Things are going to be tough, things are going to go sideways and what you described and is just an extraordinary feat of getting back up and pushing on with it. And so one of the things you mentioned was just that you had these people that supported you along the way, and I always like to learn a little bit more about the personalities that you think were important to have around you. So do you have any examples of how maybe social capital played a role in helping provide basically assistance, support to you, basically? Did you have mentors or advisors along the way that were notable and we could talk about?

Anne Boden  19:59

I have quite a few controversial opinions about mentors.

Nic Cary  20:04

All right, let's hear 'em.

Anne Boden  20:05

So the expectation is that lots of people have mentors and that's what helps them through their career. Most of my mentors have told me not to do things. So mentors tell you, don't change your job and just stick at it. Or don't start a bank, Anne, that's a stupid idea. Nobody ever starts a bank. Don't start a bank. Don't try. Don't write a book, Anne. It's a really, really stupid idea to write a book. Nobody's going to read it. Who

Nic Cary  20:46

Reads books anymore?

Anne Boden  20:48

So the problem is that mentors tend to look at you and give you advice based on average outcomes. Somebody of 54 is not going to be able to start a bank. First of all, nobody ever starts a bank, and you're the wrong sort of person to start a bank. Don't write a book. People never write books. You don't write your whole story for the whole world to read and you won't be able to sell the book. So yeah, so I wrote a bestseller. Okay. So the problem is mentors tend to give you advice based on expectations for who you are. And most mentors will look at you and give you advice based on the average outcome of somebody, of your social class, of your age, of your sex. And great things don't come from average people. Great things come from people or buck the trend.

Nic Cary  22:13

Oh man, it's so interesting that you've had that people holding you back and mentors basically, or people you'd work with just saying, oh, conservatively, that's a dangerous idea. Or you could ruin your career, or who's going to read the book? Or This could be consequences for sharing that story or whatever. And I think that the pursuit of truth obviously and is so important. It's got to be out there. That story needs to be told. People need to hear it. And yeah, I think the point you made about great things come out of taking risks basically. So for those out there that feel like they have a support system, but it's kind of holding them back in some ways. And how would you give confidence to people or entrepreneurs out there, women or even ones that are older or further along in their careers, how should they think about taking risks at different points in their lives and careers and do that in a way that could help them reinvent themselves?

Anne Boden  23:19

Yeah, I think you need to look for people who can give you tangible help. As far as women are concerned, I think we have to stop trying to fix the women, but fix the system. So there's nothing wrong with women stop telling us that we are either too soft or too hard or because we are not bald eggs that are either soft or hard. We are successful women. We don't need to be told to change how we go about our lives, but things are tougher for us. And because we don't fit into a category. So I tell women, stop worrying about how people perceive you. Just work on your idea and seek out people who will give you tangible help, money consultancy advice. You don't need somebody who patronizes you.

Nic Cary  24:34

If anything, get them away. So earlier you told us about how you earned your first buck as a teller, as a banker at Lloyd's. Out of your background in Wales. Do you remember the first time you ever made a philanthropic contribution or the first time you gave a buck or pound away? And what are some things, tell us a little bit about causes and things that you care about.

Anne Boden  25:05

I think it's homelessness. I think that the thing about the problem of providing shelter and services to people that don't have homes, it's so, so difficult. But we are faced with it every day. And it is so, so sad that when you walk down a high street and you've got expensive coffee shops and luxury good shops, you've got people sitting on the road outside. And I find it really, really difficult. And that's why I make contributions not on the street, but when I come home, when I think about that sort of difficulty and those sort of people, because lots of them are really, really clever, interesting people, and isn't it so sad that society cannot manage this problem?

Nic Cary  26:39

Yeah, I think you make a great point, which is just like how do you get on your feet if you don't have a roof over your head? And I think as the economy is changing quickly right now and inflation pressures are putting a lot of pain on families around the UK and around the world, this issue is coming sharply into focus. And interestingly, I think finding safety and housing is obviously a hugely important thing for public policy to be focused on. And so is mobility via income in entrepreneurship potentially. I'd like to talk a little bit about hiring because you've hired a lot of people in your career and I think building teams is one of the most challenging things that business leaders have to concentrate on. So maybe what are some lessons learned and do you have a favorite interview question that sort of gets to the soul of someone that helps you understand whether or not you're going to be able to work with them?

Anne Boden  27:45

A good interview is not necessarily a good predictor of a good relationship and a good, I know

Nic Cary  27:52

You've hired a lot of people,

Anne Boden  27:57

But I think my favorite interview question is at the end of the interview, okay, so what is the question that I haven't asked you that I need to know? And that sort of question normally gets to the heart of the matter. Most of the time people will answer it and people either answer it on the basis of, I've had one person say, yes, I'm Olympic skier and I need the winter off. Or somebody saying that they have this side project that's very important to them or that they tell you why they left their last job.

And I think that always leave enough time to ask that question and to evaluate the answer where you can prod and really find something which is really, really important to that person. And it's always interesting what that thing is. And I have spotted my most energetic, valuable talent with that question. I think that you need to hire for strengths rather than absence or weaknesses. And people that have great strengths, have great weaknesses as well. Average people that tick all the boxes are not going to change the world. One of the problems you have is that you write a list of six things that this candidate must have. You end up saying that somebody can tick all six boxes, but you could have somebody that ticks three that is outstanding on one of them, and it's really atrocious on two of them, and that is the person that will actually make the huge difference.

Nic Cary  30:14

Alright, so what is the question I haven't asked you that I need to know? I like that one a lot. So I saw in the introduction that you've got a new book coming out called The Money Revolution, and I know it's not quite out yet, so can you give us, oh no. It's the Female Founders Playbook out soon. So can you give us a preview of it to the extent that you share

Anne Boden  30:37

Yeah. So the Female Founders Playbook, it really tackles all the big things that happen when you do a startup. Anything from how do you get your funding, how do you select your team members, how do you deal with things go wrong, how do you grow your customers, whatever. So it goes through all the stages of building your business, but it's told through the lens of female founders who have been very successful. So the book is applicable to everyone. It's my playbook, it's a book I wish I had because I didn't know how to do it, I didn't know how to start a business. So it's that book, but the narrative and the stories are all from successful female founders.

Nic Cary  31:32

Amazing. So we'll get to read that soon. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm sure I will wish I had that playbook as well. Okay, last question here. Taking steps to pursue entrepreneurship I think can feel really scary regardless of where you are in that journey. What tips can you give our listeners today to help manage some of the stress that comes with pursuing entrepreneurship and running your own business?

Anne Boden  31:59

Yeah. First of all, you have to become comfortable with the stress and the stress doesn't go away. So it's the stress of raising money. And then when you've raised the money, it's the stress of actually being accountable to somebody for spending the money. And then when you get customers, it's the stress of serving those customers. And then as you develop, it's the stress of keeping up the standard and then the stress of a possible exit. But the stress can be something that drives you, that fires you, that drives your passion. I think you have to get used to it and embrace it and be prepared to tap into everybody else's experience. I'm a great reader of other people's startup stories and I take inspiration from them. That is why there's an onus on successful entrepreneurs to share our stories, to explain how things go terribly, terribly, terribly wrong. Lots of things have gone terribly wrong with me and my story, and that's why I like reading about those stories.

Nic Cary  33:21

Well, Anne, thank you so much for sharing the breadth and the experiences that you've had and the ones you're continuing to contribute to from the early stages of being a banker to all of the journeys you've had across the big financial institutions to telling them to go sod it and building your own and the extraordinary work you've done at Starling Bank and now giving back, especially with the initiatives around the women highlight growth enterprise task force. And I'm looking forward to seeing the findings that you guys have there. I've summarized a couple of things in my notes that I just think would be good to just revisit with everyone who's listening. It's never going to be easy. I think you heard from Anne again that you can become an entrepreneur at any stage of your life, but a lot of it comes down to looking at moments to reinvent yourself potentially and to acknowledge that the world is evolving and that there are opportunities to do things for customers out there in ways that were not thought of 5, 10, 20 years ago.

So if you can use new tools to solve old problems, there's a lot of opportunities to build all kinds of exciting businesses and to be brave and pursue those opportunities when the time comes. I think one of the things you said that was so clever that I liked a lot was just hire for sort of exaggerated strengths. Trying to find people that check every box or are well-rounded, build a diverse team. And in a lot of ways, you should find those individuals that are really, really good at specific things and surround yourself with those that are doing the best. And then I loved the bit about, let's see, was one last point was I wanted to trigger on was just that resilience and perseverance. I think regardless of what kind of business you're building, if it's a small business in your village or town or you have bigger ambitions, it's going to be stressful.

And to use that stress to motivate yourself a bit, there is no easy path when it comes to having the responsibility of taking care of customers, of taking care of capital, of raising money, and then prudently using it to make investments and hopefully grow that capital base. And so thank you and I am so grateful for sharing the stories and I cannot wait to read your next book. So this podcast has been brought to you by skys We connect underrepresented entrepreneurs with business professionals for free. one-on-one mentoring. We provide business guides to all our members, plus monthly funding opportunities. You can sign up for free today, and if you like what you heard, please subscribe and share. Thanks again, Anne.

Outro  36:01  

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