We built Starling because we knew the world needed a new kind of bank: one that put customers first and made the world of finance as accessible and easy for as many people as possible.
Which means we had to find a way of communicating that was clear, open and inclusive, so no one was left out. Language has the power to include, welcome, engage and educate – but it can also be alienating, confusing or even scary. Here are some of the ways we stay thoughtful and intentional when we write:
1. Don’t assume knowledge
Complicated industry-specific jargon and formal ‘bank-speak’ makes it harder for our customers to understand what we mean. So we always take the time to explain things in a clear, precise way, never assuming that a reader is tech-savvy or well-versed in banking terms. We’ll choose normal everyday words that people use in their everyday lives, to make sure our writing’s as accessible as possible. By doing this, we open up the world of finance and make it feel like a place for everyone.
2. Avoid gendered language
We want all our customers to feel like they’re a part of the Starling community. So we always refer to a theoretical person as ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. Take our Kite card: we use ‘adult’ instead of ‘parent or guardian’, and ‘kid’ or ‘child’ rather than ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. That’s not because we think that the words ‘parent’ or ‘guardian’ are discriminatory, but rather, because we want to make sure that we’re representing as many different types of people and situations as possible.
Where we can, we use ‘woman’ instead of ‘female’ – but we always consider whether we need to specify the person’s gender at all. Reducing women to mere reproduction by using ‘female’ (i.e. their sex) could also exclude those who can’t reproduce, as well as trans and gender non-conforming people.
Even something as small as replacing ‘hey guys’ with ‘hey everyone’ can have an impact – it takes a little work to snap out of the habit. We’ve been campaigning to #MakeMoneyEqual through language and media since 2018.
3. Be thoughtful and intentional about ethnicity
We only mention gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, racial group or ability when it’s an essential contribution to the discussion. Where possible, we’ll also try to specify ethnicity instead of using labels such as ‘people of colour’, ‘BAME’ or ‘ethnic minorities’.
This subject is an ongoing conversation at Starling and our internal Race and Ethnicity Inclusion Group keeps the whole company updated as the world evolves. For example: as a result of discussions around the Black Lives Matter movement, we capitalise the ‘b’ in ‘Black’ when referring to people in a racial, ethnic or cultural context.
This year, we commissioned an independent audit on specific algorithms at Starling to make sure that they were free from gender or race bias. It’s one way we’re holding ourselves accountable and staying educated about the many forms bias can take.
4. Include non-native English speakers
The cat’s out the bag: not everyone understands what certain expressions mean. So we tend to avoid idioms, just in case. It might sound catchy, but – let’s not beat around the bush – the priority is making sure we get our point across, not writing something clever for the sake of it. So, let’s call it a day.
5. Keep an eye out for outdated terms
Language, and the way we use it, is constantly changing. Many phrases that are considered offensive today were once seen as totally acceptable. But there are still some words people use unthinkingly all the time, not taking into account their racist or sexist origins – for example, ‘blacklist’, or ‘black sheep’.
We encourage everyone at Starling to challenge themselves to look for alternatives to these types of words. Has what you’ve written somehow sent the message that the word ‘black’ symbolises something bad?
These subjects aren’t always easy, and no one can get it right all the time. The important thing is to maintain an open dialogue, listen to the people around us and stay educated about how the language – and the world – is changing. The right words will follow.