Norfolk Network stories

One man’s mission to make banking truly digital

Rachel Buck
Digital Marketing Consultant

David Brear is CEO and co-founder of 11:FS, host of the Fintech Insider podcast and a UEA graduate. He has the attention and ear of CEOs from some of the world’s largest financial institutions and has built a business on helping banks become “truly digital”.

David described his career as “a voyage of exploration”. A driven individual, he is drawn to industries and problems that need solving and endeavours to understand and master new things as quickly as possible and from many different angles.

Before leaving “real work” he delivered large-scale digital transformations at Aviva and Lloyds Banking Group, and led Gartner’s Global Digital Banking practice. He also cut his teeth in user experience at Foolproof, so it was fitting that its Founder Tom Wood should introduce David at Norfolk Network’s January event.

Norfolk made me smart

“I wasn’t the smartest kid”, confessed David. “It wasn’t that I was dumb, it was just that I did not care.” As the sporty kid at school David was focused on playing sport but a knee injury meant he had to “get a proper job”.

He identified Financial Services and Technology as industries ripe for disruption so stayed in education to understand both better and to “figure out life”. What he figured out was that he needed to try harder and work harder than those around him if he wanted to succeed. “Norfolk made me smart,” explained David. “For 7 years I was commuting in and out of London. I was working an extra 4 hours, I was reading more, learning more. That set me apart.”

Despite the billions of pounds invested in digital banking David also realised that it was no better in the noughties than it had been in the nineties. In fact, digital banking had become a worse version of its previous analogue self and had further distanced customers from banks. In the meantime, challenger banks and Fintech start-ups had come at the problem from a different angle and were connecting with customers by meeting un-met user needs.

“When we started, it wasn’t about starting a business it was about motivating other people to believe what we believed”

Digital banking is only 1% finished

With this realisation David founded 11:FS with no money, no office and no clients and set about changing how the banking industry went about digitalisation. He was joined by Simon Taylor from Barclays, Jason Bates Co-Founder of Monzo and Starling, then Meaghan Johnson and Ross Methven who were previously running a research firm. With £0 in the marketing pot he attracted the attentions of “some pretty impressive people”. 15 months on and 11:FS has 65 employees operating out of London, New York and Chicago (Singapore and Brisbane coming soon), has amassed 110 companies and built 7 new brands.

“When we started, it wasn’t about starting a business it was about motivating other people to believe what we believed,” said David. “Despite the money that’s been invested, all the changes that have taken place and the change in the competitor landscape, digital banking is still only 1% finished.”

“Banking nailed it to start with,” added David. “The relationship was based on humans and humanity and that was great.” He went on to explain that digital has actually moved people further apart. “What’s happened is that we’ve got much more of a standardised and uniformed experience which has removed much of the humanity from those experiences.”

In addition, people’s experiences with consumer goods has become the benchmark for other services, thus widening the service gap in banking. The “dumbed down” digital version of analogue services has led to what David describes as a “one thing fits nobody approach from an experiential perspective”. When David says banking is only 1% finished he is referring to everything; payments, insurance, asset management etc in both retail and commercial banking.

The banking battlefield

When speaking with senior banking people David often refers to his banking battlefield diagram, which represents what’s happening in the industry today. There are three main groups. The big, legacy organisations hold most of the customers but have low sophistication when it comes to digital products and services. Brand challenger banks such as Tesco and Orange started out with good intentions but have ended up just being smaller versions of the big banks.

According to David building a bank is now “relatively trivial” thanks to regulatory and technological changes, which has led to the third group consisting of Insurtech and Fintech start-ups. This then leaves the big non-FS digital players like WeChat, Apple, Amazon and Google. According to David “these guys have more money, more customers and brands that people actually like.”

When banks ask David how they can move from the left side of the diagram to the right his reply is: “you can’t and should stop trying.” Banking has been slow to digitise so what started out as small incremental changes to keep up have now become chasmic. In addition, the behaviours of change in these organisations have become “prohibitive to innovation and change”.

Digital transformation within banking is often “an army of people”, revealed David. Fintech teams in contrast are “small and can build something so compelling that someone like HSBC will partner with them because they can’t build that capability.” The first iteration of Monzo for example was built in just 15 weeks with a mostly non-FS team.

The remaining 99%

“When I say digital banking is only 1% done, what I really mean is that it has 99% still to go,” David concluded. “This is an inflection point of where we are as an industry.” Now is not the time for innovation, said David, but time to get stuff done. “The exercise in executing ideas spreads apart the people who have an inkling of what they need to do and the companies who will actually exist in the next 20 years.”