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Starling Bank poaches Ovo chief for next phase of growth

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Starling Bank has poached energy supplier Ovo’s head Raman Bhatia to lead the London-based digital lender in its next stage of growth towards a potential public listing, following the departure of founder Anne Boden.

The fintech group said on Tuesday that Bhatia, who is currently chief executive of Ovo and previously led the digital bank for HSBC’s retail banking and wealth management business in the UK and Europe, would take over from interim chief executive John Mountain in early summer, subject to regulatory approval.

The neobank has been searching for a permanent chief executive since June last year, when founder Anne Boden stepped down following a clash with investors over fund manager Jupiter’s valuation-cutting sale of its holding.

“We see significant opportunities for Starling under Raman’s leadership as the economy stabilises”, said Starling chair David Sproul, adding that his appointment would allow the bank to expand its personal and small business customers in the UK and grow its banking software business.

Bhatia said he was “truly honoured” to be appointed to the bank which he had “long admired because it believes passionately, like I do, in using the power of technology to do the right thing for its customers and its people”.

The incoming chief will be tasked with steering the bank towards a public listing, at a time when investors in the once high-flying fintech sector are seeking to make a return. But the initial public offering market in London has remained subdued in recent months, with many private companies holding off on listing plans until more favourable market conditions return.

Bhatia will also have to execute a balancing act between the growth of Starling’s banking business and its push of Engine, its more recent banking software which it is hoping to sell to other banks internationally.

Starling bank was created in 2014 as part of a cohort of neobanks at a time of regulatory change that encouraged innovation in UK banking. Unlike its peers Monzo and Revolut, it has been profitable since 2022 following a push into lending and business banking. 

However, its valuation has fallen from £2.5bn to about £1.5bn following Jupiter’s share sale whilst its growth has lagged behind rivals. Monzo, which recently secured a $5bn valuation, has more than 9mn clients while Revolut boasts 40mn customers and secured a £33bn price tag at its latest fundraising.

Fintech start-ups in Europe and in the US have suffered valuation cuts as rising interest rates have put an end to a period of growth at all cost and inflated valuations.

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