We chat to Julian Sawyer (COO at Starling Bank) about technology, biggest changes in the last 5 years, what he couldn't do without and his wishes for solving problems with new technology.

Having previously worked as a management consultant for Accenture and EY, Julian was recruited by Starling Banks CEO Anne Boden to help build a brand-new type of bank from scratch, starting from ground zero.

We asked Julian four questions about the impact of technology on his role at Starling Bank.

What has been the biggest change in technology in the last 5 years?

The biggest change has been the shift from desktop to mobile. Mobile used to be almost incidental, with everything happening on a desktop first. This has totally changed, now if something is being developed, we start with mobile and challenge whether it needs to on a desktop at all. This is how we started Starling Bank, the only mobile app-only current account in the UK. We’re only available through our app developed for mobile, we’re not even available for the iPad. Because of this we are totally changing how our users experience money and finances.

By having a phone based app only interface, we can provide a number of features and benefits that just aren’t possible with a traditional banking phone app, which will be offered to banking customers in addition to a browser interface. For example, setting up a new payee – with our app, if you go for dinner and want to transfer some cash for the bill to your dinner companion you can do it right there within the app. The traditional banks want you to log into the browser version to set up the new payee, before allowing you to go back to the app to make the transfer.

The next step is to consider the additional security features that a phone based app-only bank can offer. If we can see cash withdrawals happening in a different country to where your phone is, it’s highly likely that your card is being fraudulently used – because we understand that no-one leaves home without their phone. It also means that we can use geolocation and API features to provide a huge amount of data about where and how our customers are spending, through showing where a purchase has been made, to drawing in the logo from a shop into statements, making it really easy to see where purchases have been made. All of this data is available for the customer, giving them much greater control over their finances.

What issue can tech now solve that it couldn’t when you started out?

Tech can now help people to have a healthier financial life by making it possible to have access to real time data about their finances. For example, with our app, if a customer misplaces their card, but has a feeling they left it in the jeans they wore to the pub the night before, they can simply “lock” the card through the app. Previously there would have undoubtedly been a decision around whether to cancel the card (even though you’re pretty sure it’s in your pub jeans) and wait a few weeks for a new one, or take the risk by leaving I until you get home.

Our customers can lock the card, check their jeans when they get home and either unlock it when they find the card, or order a new one through the app. This level of control was not even close to being available when I started my career. .

What do you wish you could solve with new technology?

As an industry, we still struggle with payments and how slow and archaic they are. As with the advent of the telephone, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, I’m sure he soon realised he needed to make quite a few more if he wanted to have a conversation with someone. We feel the same about payments, in that until the retailers are prepared to open up their systems to the bank and vice versa to allow data to be transferred between to two, we’ll be stuck with slow payments and limited records of information. I’d love to see a bank statement that gave me access to all the information on a receipt, line by line, not just the total, for example. Richer data from the retailer in real time would provide a brilliant experience for the customer.

What is the most useful bit of tech that you regularly use in your business?

Slack! We’re a tech company and slack has changed how we communicate with each other. It allows a very open culture and supports our flat structure, where everyone can communicate across all levels and departments in an easy and open way. It’s even integrated into our purchasing authorisation processes, which not only speeds things up but provides a full audit trail too.

Readers can download the app to try for themselves if they search for “Starling Bank” within their phone app store.

We’ll be catching up with Julian at our event later in the year where we’ll bring together leaders in technology and marketing from some of the most well-known names in retail and finance to share ideas and experience. Attendees will learn from one another on topics around using technology to drive business performance, over lunch in a beautiful setting.

This is an invite only event for industry experts, so please register your interest below and we'll keep you updated.

Invite only Talking Tech events

Attendees will learn from one another industry experts (by invite only) on topics around using technology to drive business performance, over lunch in a beautiful setting, hosted by Answer Digital.

About the Author...

Responsible for the Finance Sector clients at Answer Digital, Nigel leads projects delivering measurable outcomes for commercial success across a broad range of customers in Wealth Management, Life and Pensions, Insurance and B2B Leasing.