Starling Bank's SaaS business can be bigger than the bank, says its boss, who has no ambitions to be a future Starling CEO

Sam Everington, the CEO of SaaS business Engine, talks the future of Engine and its growth plans and how it could be bigger than Starling Bank.
Starling Bank's SaaS business can be bigger than the bank, says its boss, who has no ambitions to be a future Starling CEO

The youthful-looking boss of Starling Bank’s Software as a Service (SaaS) business has ruled himself out as a future CEO of one of the UK’s most famous challenger banks.

Sam Everington, the 37-year-old CEO of Engine, didn’t apply for the job of Starling Bank CEO this time around (Raman Bhatia, the CEO of energy firm Ovo, got the nod) either.

Everington says tech is his métier.

Everington says: "I did not apply for it. I wouldn’t consider myself for that kind of job. I am a product and technology person; I enjoy the technology side of the business.”

No to Starling CEO role

What about Starling CEO Sam Everington in the future? “I can’t see that happening. I spend a lot of time with Raman at the moment. He is going to be brilliant for the organisation,” he says.

It seems that Bhatia, who is publicly slated not to join Starling until the early summer, is already making manoeuvres within the challenger bank.

The question about Everington applying for the role as CEO of Starling, which has three million plus customers, might not be that far-fetched. 

Starling man

A former consultant, Everington was with Starling since it was a twenty-something-strong startup (his Starling claim to fame is he pushed the button which launched the challenger bank), holding a slew of high profile roles before taking up the CEO role of Engine in 2022; he also sits on Starling’s executive committee.

Moreover, SaaS businesses like Engine are voguish, the talk of the town, attracting tens of millions of pounds in investment; Starling chief financial officer Declan Ferguson is certainly a fan, proclaiming that Starling could end up looking more like a software business rather than a bank in the future.

In the debit column, the well-spoken executive lacks top-level banking experience.

Salt Bank

Everington is speaking to on the back of eye-catching figures publicised by Engine, a suite of technologies that Starling was built on and which the challenger bank now sells to financial institutions around the world.

The figures relate to Salt Bank, Engine’s first overseas client, a Romanian digital bank launched by the Bank of Transylvania, the biggest bank in southeastern Europe, powered by Engine’s software.

Engine’s tech helped launch Salt at breakneck speed, in under 12 months, the press release trumpets.

100,000 customers onboarded in two weeks and Salt is now the most downloaded financial app in Romania, it declares. Job’s a good’un.

12-month deadline key

Goosing the Engine and Salt teams to get Salt Bank up and running within 12 months was key, says Everington.

He says most management teams are loathe to sign off on longer, more expensive projects to transform their banks or launch new digital banks.

As for Salt Bank's 100,000 customers in under two weeks, Everington points out it took Starling around nine months to hit that milestone.

The launch of Salt Bank involved between five and 10 Engine staffers working out of Bucharest with the Salt Bank team, says Everington, who also made frequent visits to Romania.

And what was the project’s biggest challenge? He says co-ordinating across multiple countries and multiple organisations in a tight time scale.

The Engine proposition

Starling launched Engine as a subsidiary business in 2022, as the challenger bank u-turned on its global strategy.

It axed plans to grow Starling across Europe through a European banking licence, instead opting to provide its tech on a SaaS basis to banking partners. 

But some have questioned whether the move is misguided and that priorities are now conflicted.

Engine sells itself as a “cloud-native, complete banking platform”. 

It offers all the pieces needed to run a digital bank- such as a management portal, card processing, AML- which clients can cherry pick.

Clients are not stumping up for a rebadging of the Starling app but can build products on top of its software.

Commercial model and rivals

Engine’s commercial model is based on a usage fee, depending on customer volumes.

Competitors in this area include the likes of legacy player Temenos and newer rivals like Mambu, Thought Machine and 10X.

Everington says:

"The real competition is where the bulk of the customers and balances sit today, so in Starling’s case, it’s not the fintechs that everyone thinks it is, it’s the Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, that is who you are trying to get customers out of it.

“For Engine, it is the same answer. The vast majority of banks are running 20,30,40-year-old core systems from traditional vendors, that’s where the volume and where the books are. Ultimately it's those banks you are talking to, that you are selling to.” 

Engine as a tourist attraction

Like a London tourist attraction, banking executives from autour du monde are descending on the capital wanting a bit of the Starling (which is profitable and prized as a UK leading challenger bank) gold dust, says Everington.

He says:

“There has long been a bit of a fintech tour that goes on. 

“We get banks that turn up from all over the world to see how Starling has made digital banking successful and profitable.”

Interest is coming from banks, fintechs, and non-banking brands wanting to move into financial services from around the world, but Engine is not currently pushing the business in the UK due Starling's commitments, he says.

Everington says Engine, whose on-going development costs is funded by Starling, can be picky about its client roster. 

It is also working with Australia’s AMP Bank which will be launching a new digital bank offer targeting the small business and consumer markets in 2025.

Cross fertilisation between Starling and Engine

Engine is a wholly owned Starling subsidiary. 

Currently, there are over 500 staff working in technology across Starling and Engine, which are located in the same building and retain close ties.

Although Engine hires its own staff, Engine has recruited “quite a lot" of Engine staff, including Everington and most of his management team.


The emergence of Engine has not gone without criticism and questions have arisen as to whether it will be successful. 

Not only is Engine in a crowded space, but some question whether running a challenger bank and a SaaS business are compatible.

Or as fintech commentator Chris Skinner puts it: “Doing both agendas seems a bit like asking to land on Mars whilst, on the way, dropping a package on the moon.”

Another critic told the FT: "Doing enterprise sales of banking software is completely different to having 3.5 million customers with a current account. It’s very rare.”

How does Everington respond to such criticism?

He says: "Salt is the best answer to that. We have run a very successful bank in the UK for the last year and we have successfully delivered a digital bank much faster than the industry norms.”

Engine’s future

There is no public timeframe as to when Engine will be profitable, says Everington, but, like Ferguson, he has high hopes for Engine.

He says:

“Clearly Starling the bank at the moment is the biggest part of the group by a long way. But it is a UK regulated bank and it is constrained to a single country ultimately, whereas Engine can serve banks in a whole number of markets in a very different way.

“Do I see a world in the future where Engine is as big as the bank or the bigger part of the group? Yes, potentially, but it is some years away from being that now.”

Follow the developments in the technology world. What would you like us to deliver to you?
Your subscription registration has been successfully created.