Anne Boden Q&A: “I come from a long line of strong, determined women”

The founder of Starling Bank discusses classroom rivalry, robots of the future and the Welsh painter Ceri Richards. 

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Anne Boden was born in Swansea in 1960. She is the founder and CEO of Starling Bank, an online-only “challenger” bank. She received an MBE in 2018.

What’s your earliest memory?

Standing with my father, Jack Boden, beside the newly built Swansea University campus. Everyone was proud of the development. Later, I did my degree there.

Who are your heroes?

As a child it was John Hunt, the vicar’s son. He was the brightest kid in the class and I measured everything I did against his results. It made me work harder. My adult hero has to be Professor Sarah Gilbert, who designed the Oxford vaccine.

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What book last changed your thinking?

I read four or five books a week, all connected with work, so they all have an impact. An old favourite is Corporate Politics for IT Managers, a quirky guide to office politics for anoraks, not that there’s much need for that sort of thing right now.

Which political figure do you look up to?

In a year when all eyes have been on the NHS, it has to be Aneurin Bevan, who died the year I was born and was also Welsh.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Life in the Fifties. During a teacher’s strike my parents bought me a second-hand, 24-volume Encyclopedia Britannica from 1956. I read every page. 

[See also: George the Poet Q&A: “What’s currently bugging me? My 2020 belly fat”]

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The future. Those robots can do all the housework.

What TV show could you not live without?

I rarely watch only TV. I’m more of a multi-screen person, with a bunch of books open at the same time.

Who would paint your portrait?

Ceri Richards, a fantastic Welsh painter and printmaker, although this is sadly not an option any more.

What’s your theme tune?

“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” by Ethel Merman, which is definitely not a message to the rest of the banking industry.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I come from a long line of strong, determined women. The prevailing view in my house was: “If you want to succeed, you’d better knuckle down and get on with it.” I’ve followed that advice to the letter.

What’s currently bugging you?

Same as always: conscious or unconscious bias against women in business and fintech. Believe it or not, I don’t want to always be one of the few options for lists of “most powerful women in…”.

What single thing would make your life better?

I have so much to be thankful for, I have no right to ask for more.

[See also: Adam Grant Q&A: “What would make my life better? Outsourcing sleep”]

When were you happiest?

On 14 July 2016. The day Starling Bank received its banking licence. It was quite a journey to get that far.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

John Hunt went on to be a dentist and I was heading for medical school, thanks to our classroom rivalry. Fortunately, I peeled off at the last minute to do computer sciences.

Are we all doomed?

Not at all. I’m a firm believer that we’re at our most creative during the toughest times. We’ve seen some incredible innovations over the past year. 

“Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry” by Anne Boden is published by Penguin Business

This article appears in the 03 March 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Humanity vs the virus

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