Whichever way you look at it, banks have a poor reputation for customer service. Over the last few years we have seen leaders prosecuted and stripped of their honours for exposing customers to risk, mis-selling scandals, and no end of failed innovations. As Oliver Prill, CEO of Tide, recently noted, it is too easy to blame regulation for this: the reality is that broader cultural and leadership issues are often the root causes.
What does delivering outstanding customer service—and the leadership to deliver it—involve? Part of the answer might be found in an often-ignored of the U.K.’s banking infrastructure: clearing.
ClearBank is a bank that helps other banks make payments on their and their customers’ behalf, in real time. It also holds other banks’ cash on behalf of its customers. In a little over 5 years it has make remarkable inroads into the U.K. market, with over 80 financial institutions live on the its platform and a further 100+ awaiting onboarding.
Key to this rapid growth, according to ClearBank CEO Charles McManus, was that the bank he co-founded had to be ruthlessly focused on identifying and satisfying customer needs from day one—a far cry from the shareholder-first mentality of most banks. “We always knew that it had to operate efficiently, but more importantly it had to offer a real-time experience to our end customers. It had to be real-time, it had to be scalable, it had to be uber cyber-resilient and had to be able to deal with large volumes of data without compromising security,” he says.
The key, McManus claims, was to focus on embedding and scaling a ruthlessly customer-centric culture from the start. “Our 110 developers—all of them—are physically located with our other functions. Whenever we are working on anything, they bring customers in [to the discussions] as early as possible, and constantly, relentlessly iterate.” Build it, try it, check and cross-check it, iterate, then release, is a way of working that is now deeply embedded in the culture, he says. “And if things go wrong, we’re not going to blame people. That just slows everything down.”
McManus believes that a machismo culture has hindered innovation in banking. “I’m not a saint but I’ve seen so many of those clichés in the banking world. People can be quite brilliant in relation to trading environments, but they’re A-types and when challenged they completely lose it,” he says. But such behavior distracts from the job of identifying and satisfying customer needs. “I would manage them by saying, ‘When you’ve calmed down, we can have a rational conversation and we’ll get this sorted out.’ I’ve almost treated them like…