We sat down with Andrew Smith, CTO, ClearBank to talk about what it means to be a Chief Digital Officer, creating a ‘tech-first’ culture and why he considers himself lucky that ClearBank was imagined from a blank sheet of paper at FinTECHTalents 2019.
Watch the video now:
Where do you stand on whether banks still need a ‘chief digital officer’?
It’s quite interesting, it’s about what is the role of the chief digital officer, or head of digital, what does that actually mean and is there a place for that in technology or in finance technology.
I say finance technology to be a bit cheeky because technology is in everything we do. What is the percentage chance that you can find a process in a bank or a building society, in a stock exchange or anything like that where something isn’t digital? It’s 0% chance.
That’s because at the end of the day, money and values are digital. So, every single outcome, every single journey that you have is digitally backed. So, if I turn around and say I’ve got a head of digital or a chief digital officer, essentially what you are saying is you have a head or a chief of everything that you do.
A finance technology company, technology is the rich vein that runs through it and you’ve just said I’m the head of all of it. I’m accountable for everything there because essentially digital is everything we do. So, the title is just far too broad, it’s far too broad reaching. I don’t think there’s really any place for it in finance. I actually don’t think there’s any place for it in any business, any marketplace. Because everything I do from a music store to even a fish-and-chips store, to finance – technology is behind that on the digital journey.
Tell us about the balance between culture and technology?
Actually if you’ve got this chief digital officer and you’re saying actually it’s too abstract, it’s too broad to be – you know you’re responsible/accountable for everything – what actually are you? Right?
It comes down to culture. It does come down to culture. If you take Barclays, RBS, Lloyds, HSBC they’re the original FinTechs. They are the original FinTechs. So how do I differentiate between Monzo, Revolut, ClearBank, Coinbase, Robin Hood app – how do I actually differentiate that? It is technology, but it’s actually the culture behind it. Those particular new players have technology at the core at the heart and everything else around me is the business is actually i’m tech-first, deliver the business services or financial services second and that’s a cultural thing.
That means mindset wise from my investors, my shareholders, right the way down to my individual engineers, person who makes the coffee, whatever you want to say, they’re living and breathing that particular culture. So, that means chief digital is a cultural officer. Now when I think again about culture, it can’t be one person it’s everybody. So that title becomes again, far too broad. You can’t drag an institution kicking and screaming from being finance-first, technology-second into tech-first and financial services second – you can’t do that. So, the title again is too abstract, too broad – it becomes meaningless in what we want to do.
The cultural point: How do you move somebodys culture like that? You have to do it from the top to the bottom, from the bottom up. Everybody needs to be brought into that culture. That’s really hard when you think you’ve got people. At the end of it, at the end of the day, this is an HR sort of thing right it’s human resources, it’s me as an individual, you as an individual. What are your belief systems? What are you grown up with? What’s your background? Do you have a cultural background that’s tech first and you’ve grown up with that for the last 10, 20, 30 years? Or have you grown up with a financial services background and gone through your career that way? That’s really hard to make changes in your mind it’s just so hard to do that. Everybody has to be bought in. I haven’t got the answer, apart from start again right?
That’s what we were lucky enough to do at ClearBank. We started with a blank sheet of paper and said: We will reimagine what clearing and agency banking services are. We re-imagined that, almost like as a tech company first, banking as a service. So we are a tech bank. I wouldn’t call us ‘tech fin’, because we’ve gone through that regulated journey, we had that governance, we have the oversight. We are a bank, but it’s the mindset, technology bank not bank tech. It’s been lucky enough to take that journey.
I would not want to be somebody who was head of change or cultural change.