What are the main functions of your role?
As a rough summary, I would say the role of serving on the board as a non-executive director is about bringing together all of your learnings and experiences over the years to give independent oversight and challenge to the executive team in every aspect of the business – strategic direction, governance, risk management, and operational delivery, to name just a few areas.
You can also bring a lot of value to the business outside of the board meetings by guiding, coaching or mentoring the executive team on specific business issues. This then allows you to add more value in the board meetings as you often understand the issues in more depth.
How does working at a start-up bank compare to an established organisation?
There are a lot of similarities in all sizes of business as you have to get every aspect of business governance right in the board and business environment. The disciplines and challenges of running any business and board have a lot of crossovers. No matter how big you are, good governance is key.
A start-up brings added fun. You get much more variety in your discussions around the choices and the design that the business is taking, for example agreeing to systems selections or product designs on the ground. The fun also comes from the speed or efficiency of decision making that a start-up brings. You have to operate at a much higher frequency and making the right decision at pace is critical.
What are some key learnings from your time in the financial services industry?
It’s difficult to condense thirty plus years as you are learning and developing every day. But here are three key learnings I hold close each day – serving the customer, building a great team and managing the risk of the business.
At First Direct, where I was CFO and COO, I learnt that every tiny detail of the business should start with delivering great customer experience, service, and value. It was this value that ensured that the bank was rated the best for customer service in the UK for 20 years running.
During the global financial crisis from 2007 onwards, I was a senior executive at a large Australian Bank. During that period in banking, the value of good corporate governance and risk management came to the fore. That time in global banking left an awful lot of scars on what to do and what not to do.
In the last 8 years, I’ve been involved with 3 UK banking start-ups. In a start-up environment, the pressure is more intense so you must surround yourself with the best team possible and we build a culture where the entire team share, and work towards, the same common goal or purpose. In whatever you do, keep it as focused or as simple as possible and have total discipline of execution.
As one of the founders of B-North, what made you believe in the idea that the UK needed a new regional lending bank?
I’ve always had the view that B-North will be a national bank, with a regional delivery model. Our “lending pods” will start in the North of England and we will roll out further “pods” across the UK in our first couple of years of lending.
For some time now, I’ve had the view that the SME market, particularly the “M” (medium sized businesses with lending requirements of between £0.5m to £5m) where lending requirements are unique or bespoke and of a size where a relationship is needed, have been underserved and often overlooked by the banking market. On top of that, the big banks use either automated or one-size-fits-all models that do not lend themselves to building a great customer relationship or a bespoke experience.
At B-North, the entire team have shared a common goal from the start. Combine the best of modern systems and processes with great people who can build and develop effective customer relationships. By doing this I have no doubt we will revolutionise the customer lending journey for SMEs.
In the current economic environment what advice would you give to an SME looking to accelerate their growth
Stay true to your core objectives and build something the market requires, always make sure that what you do is critical to what your customers desire, focus on what you can control, don’t waste excessive time worrying about things you cannot influence.
Have total discipline of execution and don’t waste your cash on things that do not add value!
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your spare time?
Normally I like to travel, watch live sport and music, visit great restaurants, share a drink with friends, but that has been a little difficult of late!
One of the few benefits of Covid is that it has made me appreciate far more the beauty of the British countryside and what a wonderful place we live in. My wife, little lad and I have taken full advantage of our one walk a day!