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A start-up’s month is a banker’s decade

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I’ve heard many ex-bankers who joined a FinTech start-up, challenger bank or similar, say that they’ve achieved more in the past year than in the past decade. They claim to have achieved more with £1 million than they would have achieved before with £100 million in a bank. They’ve developed more with a team of 20 developers than they could with 2,000. The latest banker to talk about this was Nigel Walder, COO of ClearBank.

ClearBank describes itself as “the UK’s first new clearing bank in more than 250 years. Built from scratch, unencumbered by the entrenched legacy platforms that inhibit other banks from delivering the simplicity that modern customers have come to expect. ClearBank’s cutting-edge technology is transforming the clearing and agency banking experience, making transactions as efficient, fast and cost-effective as they can and should be.”

It's all based on Microsoft Azure as it’s using Platform-as-a-Service, rather than pure shift and lift Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Tide, OakNorth and Nationwide are amongst their 70 customers today, having launched just over two years ago from an idea of my friend Nick Ogden.

Nigel presented their story (presentation below) …

... and the most interesting part for me was Nigel himself.

Nigel had previously held a number of senior roles with Barclays and Deutsche Bank, and was now working in a FinTech. He let slip that the FinTech world is very different. The bank has about 50 bankers and 200 developers, and the developers are young and different. They like an office that has free flowing beer and table-tennis, stuff the corporate hot desks of the old world. They like to wear t-shirts and jeans, stuff the suits and ties of corporate banking. You get the idea.

Bankers are trying to act like FinTech start-ups, so I asked him what that was like. He told stories of being in Barclays and the key floor for innovation ripping up the deep pile plush carpets and replacing it with metal flooring. The bankers would arrive at the 22nd floor and the elevator would open to the metal Doctor Who style innovation and technology labs … and the doors would close again, as the bankers were frightened. They like carpets.

It’s hard to change a culture when the culture does not want ot change. As a result, amazing people from Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Amazon and others are flown into the bank with handsome joining gifts and wealth beyond dreams, only to leave a short time later as the banks’ culture rejects these new organisms and weeds them out.

But perhaps the most telling thing is that Nigel had 5,000 developers to look after in a large bank, driving a €400 million a year budget, and he was acting as an overpaid and glorified administrator. The operations were lucky to roll-out one update per quarter and 80 percent of the investment was being made to just keep the lights on. Now, a cloud-native bank designed for the internet age is rolling out 500 updates a year, with just 200 developers and a €25 million investment.

No wonder these seasoned bankers joining visionary start-ups are achieving more in a month than a bank delivers in a decade.


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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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