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Q&A with Joe Steele, Head of Workplace Technology at Starling Bank

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In just under a year, many businesses had no choice but to go online and with digital transformation on the rise more than ever, we wonder what it’s like for businesses who already made this transition or were digital in the first place? Joe Steele, Head of Workplace Technology at Starling Bank offers some insight into the current banking industry and how they’ve faced challenges during this time.

What are the biggest challenges banks are facing when it comes to digitalising their services?

The real challenge is for the banks that aren’t digitalising their products, especially during COVID. We’ve seen huge growth in personal, sole trader, and business accounts during the pandemic, largely in part to our digital-first approach to banking and our ability to offer all of our products through our mobile application.

The lockdown challenged banks to provide remote working flexibility for its employee; how did it impact Starling Bank in terms of employee experience? What considerations were made?

Our tech stack has been designed around remote working from day one, meaning lockdown didn’t have any effect on us. We’ve been able to perform zero-touch laptop deployments to staff anywhere in the world with an internet connection for a few years now. We’ve on-boarded around 100 new employees since the start of the pandemic from their homes, with no IT intervention required. We’ve had many employees working remotely for many years, and staff continue to use our predominantly cloud-based corporate systems with no impact on their work day, barring a considerably shorter commute.

The biggest challenge we had to face was at the start of the pandemic, where we had around 350 desktop-based staff who didn’t have laptops that we needed to get working from home within 24 hours. We managed to procure 350 macOS devices, get them delivered the next day and automatically enrolled into Jamf (our macOS management platform) which ensured all of our security settings, apps, and other configurations were in place. This meant that everyone was ready and working without disruption the morning of the first day of lockdown.

What are the main challenges for IT teams within a financial organisation when it comes to implementing a mobile strategy and how did your team overcome those challenges?

Security, security, and more security. For a lot of banks you might add incumbent on-premises systems to that list, but we don’t have that issue as we’ve always been a cloud-first organisation. Fortunately, we have a really strong cyber security team at Starling and they work closely with my team in Workplace Technology to make sure that we’re giving our users a secure device to work on, while maintaining a great end-user experience.

Why did you decide to implement an enterprise Apple MDM solution?

It’s an absolute no-brainer. The value you get from being able to deploy macOS and iOS devices

remotely, to instantly deploy apps to all your devices, ensure they’re all encrypted, deploy Wi-Fi profiles, lock lost devices, sign in to them via our SSO provider, and set different configurations to specific subsets of users is immeasurable, and that’s only about 5% of what we’re doing with Jamf right now. It’s been invaluable throughout, and especially during the pandemic.

What benefits are you seeing from implementing a mobile device management strategy and solution? Do you see this as part of a larger digital transformation journey?

When I joined the company I was in the rare position of being able to shape the technology stack to my liking as we were relatively new and there was very little in place at the time. I brought in Jamf shortly after I joined, at which point we had 100 employees. On average, it was taking the Workplace Technology team anything up to four hours to on-board staff on to macOS devices and set up the requisite accounts. I knew we were going to scale (not this much though! Another 1000 staff in under three years!) so getting a solution that would grow with us was imperative. The digital transformation is never going to end, so it’s good to be considerably ahead of the curve at this point, and that’s where we’re looking to stay.

How are you maintaining employee engagement while staff are at home? How has technology played a role?

Joe Steele

Joe Steele

The first thing is to make sure everyone is comfortable and has everything they need to work. We’ve sent out thousands of peripherals and accessories such as monitors, back supports, trackpads, and even printers to employees’ homes. On top of that, we’ve always prided ourselves on having the best technologies available and that extends to our instant messaging and video conferencing technologies. We have a livestream Q&A with our CEO Anne Boden as well as other heads of departments three times a week, we have many new Slack channels that have appeared for things like knitting, gaming, and running during lockdown, and we’re encouraging staff to have video calls with new starters to welcome them to the company.

Do you think having a mobile device management strategy has improved employee experience and if so, how?

Being able to ship a brand-new, unopened MacBook Pro directly to a staff member’s house for them to open for the first time, really gives them the sense of ownership of the device. It’s important to us that staff feel like the laptop is their own and not heavily locked-down or they’ll resent using it. Using Jamf, we’ve found a great balance in security and end-user experience.

Many banks have been reticent to offer employees more flexible and remote working. How has technology changed that mindset for Starling Bank? What surprising benefits have you seen?

We were flexible and offered remote working before lockdown, but not to such a large scale. The mindset hasn’t really changed at all, only the numbers involved. With the plethora of video conferencing, instant messaging, screen sharing, live streaming, and collaborative working tools available to us we still feel just as connected as we did before.

In fact, I feel personally as though I see my team and other colleagues considerably more now than I did when I was in the office, and I definitely feel more productive. I think the benefit is that we now know that we can work remotely and continue to thrive as a business so it’s nice to have that option. I believe businesses have been somewhat tentative around taking this step in the past but can now see its success.


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