In 2015 we published our first Design Economy, which made clear design’s economic impact and value when it is considered as a discipline that cuts across the whole UK economy. Last year we published our second Design Economy report, expanding on this previous research to show how the rest of the UK business population interacts with design, and what the demand for design is considering the growing value of design skills in the UK.

Starling Bank is a digital, mobile only bank based in the UK with a team of technologists, artists, money experts, designers and marketers. They are a brilliant example of how design is being used in new and innovative ways in order to grow the business and add value to the company.

As advanced economies across the world transition from being capital-intensive to knowledge-intensive, the importance of intangible assets such as design are growing. How have intangible assets impacted the growth of Starling Bank?

As a branchless, mobile-only bank Starling Bank could be described as an intangible ‘invisible’ business. One of its few physical assets is their headquarters in the City of London, where all 250 members of the team work. Together, the team has built all the technology from scratch; Starling is among first UK banks to be based entirely in the cloud, through Amazon Web Services.

Starling’s primary product is its mobile-only current account, which can be opened in minutes by downloading the app. AirBnB is a hospitality company that doesn’t own any beds; Uber is a transport company that doesn’t own any vehicles; Starling is a bank that doesn’t own any branches or smartphones – it simply offers a service through a banking app that gives customers an intuitive, fast and completely digital banking experience.

The growth of Starling since it was founded in 2014 has been founded on innovative technology, beautiful design within the app and the determination of the team to make banking better for customers. These intangible assets will continue to be of great importance for Starling as it continues to grow.

In the Design Economy three forms of design (physical products, visual and systems/process design) have been identified, how important are these to Starling Bank’s competitiveness and sales turnover?

For Starling, the physical products are the portrait debit cards, its visual design is the banking app and its systems/process design is the backend technology which must be equally well-built and thought through to ensure the smooth running of the bank.

All three of these elements are key for Starling; everything is integrated. In terms of turnover, having a more innovative, efficient banking app and service will bring in more customers and therefore generate more revenue.

One of Starling's rare physical touch-points with its customers is its debit card. Earlier this year Starling redesigned its cards to give them a completely new look and to differentiate them from those on offer from other banks. The card is vertically oriented, unlike most other bank cards, that are in a landscape design. The card is an important part of Starling's brand identity, reflecting the way that bank cards are used today when tapped for contactless payments or used in chip and pin machines. The vertical orientation of the debit card also fits with the vertical orientation of the app on a smartphone: it fits the brand and the usability of Starling.

The bank aims, above all, to create a delightful and intuitive user experience. Starling aims to help its customers manage their financial lives by creating a user interface that allows them to visualise and manage all aspects of their money in one place. It hopes that it will help people to be better informed about their money and remove some of the usual stress and anxiety around money management. The visual experience that Starling creates is made possible by its systems/processes. See the answer immediately below for more on our systems/processes.

How are Starling Bank using new products/services and processes to make Starling Bank more appealing to consumers and customers?

The ability to manage all your everyday money from one app is what makes Starling so appealing to customers. The convenience that smartphones have brought to so many aspects of customers’ lives is being brought to banking. Our technology allows for high functionality features that make a real difference to people’s financial lives. These include real-time alerts for when money enters or leaves the account, automatic categorisation of spending into travel or groceries and the ability to lock spending in seconds from the app without having to call customer service.

Starling Bank recently introduced a portrait debit card, what is the logic behind the redesign? How do you think this redesign will benefit Starling Bank and it’s customers?

The portrait design of the debit card reflects the way that the majority of UK customers use their cards today: contactless and chip and pin. Customers rarely swipe their cards or use machines to take an imprint of the embossed numbers, which is why Starling have chosen to remove these raised digits. The card information is all on the back of the card. The intention behind this is to increase security. It also makes the card more visually appealing and enhances the clean, minimalist look of the card.

With regards to customers who are visually impaired, expert advisors have confirmed that people do not use the embossed numbers as braille to read the card information, but to identify which way round they should place the card into the reader. Starling will give visually impaired customers the option to order a card with an indent at one end that will allow them to identify the orientation of the card. Starling’s app is particularly user friendly for people who are deaf or hard of hearing as they can open an account and contact customer service without having to make a phone call; all the communication can take place over live chat in the app.

The Design Economy 2018 defined innovation broadly to cover changes to a firm’s strategy, work organisation and marketing activities, how has innovation helped Starling become one of the most talked about challenger banks?

What makes Starling stand out is the pace at which it innovates. Products are designed and tested at speed and released to customers immediately. In the last 3 months for example, Starling has launched:

  • Joint accounts
  • Young person personal accounts for 16 and 17 year olds
  • Personalised notifications for personal, joint and business accounts
  • New portrait debit cards
  • Personal loans

Speed however does not mean cutting corners. Starling prides itself on the quality of its work. What enables the company to innovate so rapidly is its agile structure. By working in multi-disciplinary teams, Starling is able to ensure that the team responsible for developing a product also sees it through to implementation.

Starling also had a flat corporate structure, which also facilitates agile working and means that when a decision is needed there are no layers of bureaucracy to plough through.

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