Former AIB executive to target Irish market with digital-only bank

UK start-up Starling Bank founded by Anne Boden gets approval to trade in Ireland

Starling’s current account can be opened in minutes and has “zero” monthly account fees.

Starling’s current account can be opened in minutes and has “zero” monthly account fees.

 

UK fintech start-up Starling Bank is to target the Irish market with its new low cost digital current account in a move which will bring further competition to the consumer banking space.

On Monday, Starling, founded by former AIB executive Anne Boden, disclosed that it had received approval from the Bank of England to operate in Ireland under the European Union’s passporting arrangements. Ms Boden was chief operating officer at AIB between 2012 and 2013. Prior to that, she was head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa global transaction banking with RBS.

She launched Starling in 2014. Ms Boden said her vision was “to build the best bank account in the world” and added that the company “won’t really act like a bank at all”.

European expansion

Speaking to The Irish Times, Ms Boden said the start-up sees Ireland as a launch pad for a wider European expansion.

“Ireland is a great place to start off our European expansion because of my personal experience and because of the fact that we can easily enter the European market in an environment I understand,” she said, adding that she was “very, very pleased” to be coming back to the Irish market with a new proposition.

Starling’s current account promises spending insights, real-time notifications and payments, it can be opened in minutes and has “zero” monthly account fees.

“It’s very unfair to be charged penalty rates when going into overdraft, or penalty rates for travelling overseas,” Ms Boden said, adding that the bank will generate revenues from lending out money on deposit via overdrafts.

The bank has currently signed up a number of Irish customers and will be testing these up to year-end, with a view to launching on the Irish market early next year.

Mortgages and other banking products could also be on offer for Irish customers down the line, as Starling looks to link up with providers.

“We want to offer a marketplace where we fit in the middle of customer relationships,” she said.

Brexit

The arrival of Starling runs against overall trends: in recent months UK financial services operators have cut back on their Irish operations as the shadow of Brexit looms. Tesco closed its credit card to new customers, while Nationwide UK is closing its Irish savings operation.

Many UK financial services companies operate in Ireland on a freedom-of-service basis, meaning that once the UK departs the EU these rules will no longer apply, which would mean the companies would have to apply for a full licence in Ireland.

However, this hasn’t slowed Starling’s plans. It says it will adjust in due course. “We are very aware of the implications of whatever happens from Brexit, and we have plans in place for whatever alternatives we need to make,” Ms Boden said, adding that opening an office in Ireland to service the European market may make sense at some point.

“We will probably be considering that down the line but we haven’t made a decision at this time”.

Starling will join other digital-only players in the Irish banking space, following the arrival of other mobile banking companies including N26 and Revolut, which promise low-cost banking to Irish customers.

The more established players, such as Bank of Ireland and KBC Bank, continue to digitise their operations. Bank of Ireland expects to operate about 40 per cent, or 100, of its branch network as cash-only branches by the end of the year, while KBC has plans to up its digital game.