Each&Other ChalkTalks: A Path from Traditional to Digital Banking

Brian Herron

PRINCIPAL UX DESIGNER

Each&Other ChalkTalks are a monthly talk series, where we invite design, technology and business people to talk about their innovations, challenges and general trends and phenomena. ChalkTalks serve as a forum for networking and sharing ideas and thoughts, and more importantly to learn something new.

In February 2022 we had the pleasure to welcome Elaine Deehan from Starling International to discuss her journey (and ours too!) from traditional to the very best digital banking, and the importance of UX in banking. Here’s a little recap on what we learned.

It’s a long road from traditional banking to fintechs and startups

After a career in traditional institutions including Citi and AIB, Elaine Deehan had the opportunity to dive into the startup and fintech world. In 2015, she joined CurrencyFair, the world’s first online peer to peer, foreign exchange provider, before founding Pocketwire, a mobile youth account. Four years later in 2019, Elaine joined Starling to lead its entry to the Irish market offering its award-winning personal and current accounts to Irish consumers and small businesses.

During her vast career Elaine has seen design being done really well and really poorly. She’s also seen the impact great design (and bad design) can have on the customer experience. At its best, it can contribute to the success of a business.

Starling is known for its incomparable customer experience - but why?

Starling International is essentially a technology company with a bank licence. This means that while all the regulations and governance of a regular bank are still there, a huge focus is put into the technology and therefore, the customer experience that fits into today’s world. Two and a half million customers currently use Starling in the UK and enjoy the fast-launching features designed to help the customer’s day-to-day.

In traditional banking, selling and up-selling products often takes the main focus, while the customer and their actual needs tends to come second, at best. Single customer focus and transparency plays a big part of Starling’s user experience - not only the front end of an application.

One of the interesting things about Starling, compared to other financial institutions, is that they are not afraid to put products and features that aren’t fully finished out there. This allows customers to give valuable feedback before a huge amount of time is being spent on a development that might need to later become completely unusable.

Fast reaction to customer’s needs is also something you rarely see in banking. When at the start of the pandemic, Starling found out there was a need for customers to have connecting cards, instead of telling people to just give their cards to their family members, within a matter of weeks they had launched a connecting cards service where limited funds can be accessed in limited situation by family members on certain situations. More features were added later on and the product developed in its live state.

“Our success is a byproduct of putting the customer first”

The sweet spot for Starling is operating at a high optimal level in the intersection of regulation, shareholders and customers. Being able to meet all three in the middle is the secret sauce.

The delight factor comes from serving the customer features and products that they truly need and use, and doing it fast.

While one can’t ever build one product that serves absolutely everyone’s needs, good user interface and well thought through user journey is key to enabling people to use your product. Making something so easy to use essentially leads to being able to access and serve more customers.

Security and UX

All financial institutions constantly struggle to juggle regulations, security and user experience. In Starling, everyone in the organisation, regardless of their role, can contribute towards a product. But before any product sees the light of the day, it’s being assessed for compliance and risks.

Starling, amongst other challenger banks, have also had the revolution that safe banking doesn’t need to be formal and stiff. As an example, receiving a notification of a transaction can be both useful and engaging - nearly like talking to a friend! The same goes to regulatory information that the banks are required to ask of the customer, a bank can choose to make this a mandatory tedious task or they can examine the customer journey and get into the spirit of what the regulation is actually trying to achieve and make the process as smooth and pleasant as possible.

Building trust as a financial institution is crucial - but again, there are multiple ways to go about it if we’re able to think outside the box.

Challenger banks

Challenger banks challenge the status quo, how things are done. And Starling has been a pioneer in this way of thinking too. They were, for example, the first bank to introduce blocks on gambling. Other banks followed. One of the important things from a challenger point of view is that you’re not just challenging your obvious competitors but look further afield too.

While traditional banks are looking at Challenger banks for inspiration on change and new features and products, challenger banks are turning their heads towards the customers. Trying to figure out what the customers’ revolving needs and wants are. As a customer centric company, your inspiration has to come from the customers. And that’s what UX is all about.

Starling is currently in the process of entering the Irish market.

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