What Starling Bank’s new office means for Southampton’s digital tech credentials

Kane Fulton, September 6, 2019 3 min read

In Action/Reaction, our Entrepreneur Engagement Managers (or ‘EEMs’ for short) lend their views on events and developments taking place in their local region’s digital tech ecosystem.

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Starling Bank, a member of Tech Nation’s Future Fifty 2019 cohort, recently opened a new office in Southampton creating 150 jobs in the city. In the same week, CEO Anne Boden was announced as a judge for our second Fintech growth programme. The online-only challenger bank’s new office will employ 150 people, made up of 50 software engineers and 100 customer service staff, most of which will be new hires.

Elizabeth Corse, our Entrepreneur Engagement Manager for the South East, reflects on what the move means for the city.

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Starling Bank’s decision to open an office in Southampton has marked an important chapter in Southampton’s emergence as a tech hub for the UK. The company made breaking out of the London ‘fintech bubble’ its mission and, after attending the official opening of Starling’s new office earlier this week, I can see that it has succeeded.

The challenger bank’s new office isn’t merely a token office – Starling wants to be at the heart of Southampton’s community. The office opening brought together all the key stakeholders from the city – from Southampton Football Club and Southampton City Council right through to its students.

A huge attraction for Starling was the proximity of not one, but two fantastic universities. The first person I met at the opening was a young engineering student from the University of Southampton called Blessing, and I was blown away by his confidence and attitude. The opportunity Starling brings to students like him is exactly what our economy needs.

Nella Pang, Director at JLL (who acquired the new expansion office for Starling), gave me a rundown of why the location was chosen. “With a number of its neighbouring cities being highlighted in Tech Nation Report 2019 for growth locations, Southampton featured high on Starling’s search lists,” she said. Other factors included, “access to London and attracting employees from the capital; IT capabilities, amenities; and an opportunity to optimise the employee experience.”

Over the last five years, Starling has played a pivotal role in disrupting one of the oldest industries in banking. In her opening speech, CEO Anne Boden said that in 2014 she felt “ashamed of being a banker”. Continuing, Anne spoke of her desire to help people, something that has seen Starling put customers at the heart of everything it does. The mobile-only bank now has more than 800,000 customers and employs in excess of 600 staff, with a very ambitious growth programme.

Of course, it’s used new tech to make that happen. I became a Starling customer in February 2018 after watching Anne give a talk at an Amazon Web Service conference. I set-up my account from the comfort of my couch and that was the moment I realised how ubiquitous tech had become. Banking, like every industry, is being disrupted by tech – but digital transformation has been on the cards for a while. What is even more incredible is how one person’s vision has changed the landscape.

Elizabeth and Anne Boden

We talk a lot about promoting diversity in tech. As a woman in tech, it felt extraordinary to be part of a bank opening where most of my conversations were with other inspiring women. It was easy to forget this was even a bank opening; after all, it brought together Southampton’s tech community and beyond. Dame Wendy Hall, revered for her work in web technology and web science, cut the ‘digital’ ribbon and I loved watching the mutual respect both these great role-models have for each other.

Starling Bank’s head of corporate affairs Alex Frean emphasised the bank’s focus on finding people with the right attitude; they’re prepared to teach the skills part. Alex told me that many of its engineers are self-taught. It’s always refreshing to hear how companies give back, and this is why I am so passionate about Tech Nation’s role in supporting scaleups.

Digital tech startups are forced to rely on visas because they don’t have the resources to train people up from scratch; but as in Starling’s case, once you achieve a certain scale you don’t just help your clients – you change the entire ecosystem.

Community, South East