What I’ve learned about business and banking in 2020
From serendipitous innovations to an unexpectedly joyful remote working conversion, Starling Bank CEO Anne Boden reflects on a strange yet rewarding year
From Thunderbirds to Star Trek, people have always dreamed of living in a hi-tech future. Yet, progress towards this sci-fi ideal always seemed rather slow. Then, as a result of Covid-19 and the lockdown, businesses and consumers experienced 20 years of change in just six months.
Almost overnight, there was a huge leap towards digital. Even though many of the products and services had been around for a while, the pandemic led to them being adopted on a massive scale. Today, people who would previously have admitted to being complete technophobes, happily conduct most of their lives online, whether it is Zooming with colleagues, shopping or, of course, banking. In a matter of weeks, Starling saw ATM use plummet and the use of digital wallets increase exponentially. We’d never seen a pace of change like it.
In many ways, 2020 was business as usual for Starling. When we set up the bank in 2014, it was designed to run from laptops. The technology was all there and ready to go when everything shifted so abruptly. It was a fairly easy process to set the entire team up to work from home and we achieved it in a matter of hours. Yet, a lot has clearly changed.
Many of our account holders have risen to the occasion. Looking at our business customers in particular, we’ve seen numerous examples of inspiring new initiatives, as organisations pivot to make the most of the new environment. From an entrepreneurial point of view, this is what it is all about during uncertain times.
I’d advise anyone in business to sit down and write a list of what’s definitely going to happen and then a list of what may happen. The entrepreneurs that will come out on top are those that work on the list of things that may happen. That’s where innovation lies and that is how to make sure you are in the right place at the right time to embrace real growth. Any company that prefers to tread water until things get back to normal is in for disappointment.
My previous unwavering loyalty to presenteeism has evaporated. I no longer feel the need to be seen in the office, arriving well before everyone else and leaving last at the end of the day. Things work just as well, if not better, remotely
Starling is continuing the process of innovation that has seen us named Best British Bank three years in a row. As well as introducing new digital tools to help our customers manage their money better in 2021, we’ve looked closely at our own structure. We’ve consulted with colleagues about returning to the office and are doing our best to accommodate everyone’s wishes. We are planning on creating a new working environment where people can meet face to face if they need to, but will not be sticking rigidly to the models of the past. The truth is, we simply don’t need a massive central office anymore.
Much to the surprise of many of my team, I won’t be leading the charge back to the office. My previous unwavering loyalty to presenteeism has evaporated. I no longer feel the need to be seen in the office, arriving well before everyone else and leaving last at the end of the day. Things work just as well, if not better, remotely.
When I hold a Zoom meeting, the ten faces on the screen get equal billing and everyone gets a chance to contribute. There is no room for cliquey private chit-chats. I can meet with any member of the Starling team in our offices in London, Cardiff, Dublin or Southampton, or wherever they live, at any time of the day, indeed, all through the day. The new way of working is more efficient and great for the environment and our quality of life.
The events of 2020 have been a challenge, but they have also given us an opportunity. With so many embracing digital, the sci-fi imaginings of successive generations are at last becoming a reality – and it’s about time, too.
Starling Bank is fast and award-winning and there’s no need to set up an appointment with a bank manager to open an account – you can do it from wherever you are in the world. There’s also a 24/7 UK-based customer support team. For more, visit starlingbank.com.
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