The five most influential people in the future of banking

After endless stomach-churning FinTech ‘hotshot’ lists, here’s one focused on those with a heart for banking.

I’m getting a wee tired tired with ‘FinTech’ hangers on — those people and publications that romanticising those folks associated with the trendy term. So, here’s five banking bandits of today that are bringing real change in banking.

Matthias Kröner

Who is he?

Matthias has a great sense of humour. In his own words he’s twice as boring as most — he’s both German and a banker.

A bit like me, Matthias is an accidental banker. He started out in the hospitality industry and somehow got talked into an internship with a financial services broker.

They created a special programme for him as they’d never had an intern before. I guess they saw him as a bit special. And they were right.

Today Matthias is the boss at Fidor Bank. He’s overseeing a revolution (check the definition) in how a bank uses technology (it has its own operating system like Apple), how it it creates products and allows customers to easily share information.

Also, anyone punter that can code can develop a Fidor product -it’s fully open. It would be like me going into Pret as saying let’s have a Balinese coffee, because it tastes better, and having a right to do it.

Matthias asked me where to meet him in Singapore and I suggested the Hub. He soon started talking to everyone else.

What makes Matthias influential?

In short he has done the ‘hard yards’. His mission started during the financial crisis and his management team spent a lot of time using social media to get to know their potential customers and create a community in Munich.

The also invested time in working out how to have a business model where their costs of acquisition are so low that a regular banker would either trip over them or fall into depression.

All of Fidor’s processes are completed in 60 seconds. When a new savings product is launched, it sells out the next day because Fidor has spoken to its community to establish what a fair rate is, ahead of time.

As the CEO of Fidor, Matthias is now able to pilot his ship around Europe by simply shooting the local regulator a message to say he’s on his way.

Unlike the highly-publicised FinTech lot, Matthias worked out many years back that to have real influence over the future of the industry, he needed a banking licence and be a banker.

What is the best Matthias could do?

This is easy — Matthias should be doing TEDb or TED for bankers. Every banker on the planet needs to hear his story, to hear the actual numbers of how Fidor works.

I have the actual numbers in my notebook but I’ve not asked for permission to publish them, so I can’t share them here. I mention numbers because it’s something bankers understand and, in July 2014, Matthias told Breaking Banks that Fidor was acquiring customers at 20% of the industry average.

I’m pretty sure business folk in any industry would be interested to hear how a new entrant has cut an income statement line item by 80%! Matthias will tell you how, he’s that open about his way of banking.

Bank of Dave (@FishwickDavid)

Who is he?

Dave is from Burnley, Lancashire, in the north of England. He has an established (big) minibus business and now he’s the boss at Burnley Savings and Loans Limited. That’s the official name anyway.

And my point?

Though short in stature, Dave is much bigger in his ambition than anyone on my list or any other list I’ve read. He’s more Bill Gates than Boris Johnson when it comes to financial inclusion.

In 2011, Dave was seeing his local community getting nowt on their savings and businesses getting nowt from the banks when they asked for a loan. He thought, how can those City folks be getting bonuses, when our lot are struggling to keep the lights on?’.

So, he decided to start a bank.

“The Big Banks are going mobile nicking another one of my ideas!”

What makes Dave influential?

To take the most rudimentary of measures, Dave has 37,800 followers on Twitter which dwarfs Brett King’s 18,000 and, it must be said, Brett has a BIG following in financial services.

Like Brett, Dave has found a friend in broadcasting but, while Brett has 70,000 listeners on the wireless in New Jersey, Dave has had a show on the telly — first on Channel 4 on Blighty. And, there is another on the way.

So, while there are a tribe of disillusioned bankers seeking the next bank, a minivan salesman from Burnley is getting TV contracts, disrupting political party convention, turning up in Parliament in a short-sleeved shirt without a tie, and commanding an audience at the highest level.

What the best Dave could do?

Open a branch on Cheapside in the City (my old day-time street) and crowdfund it by all the disillusioned bankers or develop a fleet of his mobile vans that get bankers off their ergonomic City chairs and get them out speaking to business folk trying to operate for the benefit of their community and the country.

Dave is only interested in the 25% of banking activities that serve the real economy, the actual community. The rest, the 75% (those financial transactions that no one ‘gets’), that serve bankers that make them and their families, is a proven, artificial, scandal-creating disaster waiting to happen (again).

Piyush Gupta

Who is he?

Piyush Gupta is the CEO of DBS Bank and, in November, he gained the distinction of being named the Singapore Business Leader of the Year at the CNBC Asia Business Leaders Awards. He is also an accidental banker.

According to Forbes, Mr Gupta “wanted to be a diplomat, biding his time in grad school in Ahmedabad [India] until he’d be old enough for the foreign service. On graduation Citi [Bank] enticed him with a promise to go to the Philippines for three months’ training– his first foray abroad”. It ran another 27 years before he joined DBS.

I’ve not met Mr Gupta — the closest I’ve come (and it’s a super tenuous link), is when he looked at my Linked In profile last week. If that sounds a strange thing to say, I’d respond with it’s a strange thing for a bank CEO to look at my Linked In profile. It’s not like Ross McEwen or Jamie Dimon have been looking me up.

The point is simple: it is significant that a large bank CEO is taking an interest in the same things that I’m involved in rather than being purely focused on regulators and deals (and customers!).

Piyush Gupta, the first bank CEO to stalk me on Linked In

What makes Mr Gupta influential?

Forbes reported last June Mr Gupta’s view on digital: “we have to learn how to change our clothes while running around the hall”. He backed this up by saying he is both CEO and COO because it is “important for me to go deep down”.

In my experience over the last decade in the City of London, I’ve heard lots of statements about what should happen, but I’ve seen little evidence the necessary intent (at least reasonably quickly). The same cannot be said for DBS — check out the speed of their execution, even with 40,000 staff.

As was reported this week, DBS ran a week-long MegaHackathon as culmination of a programme that started in October. Over 250 DBS employees and 160 startup ventures across the South East Asia region were involved in the hackathons to co-create 50 prototypes. Gosh, that is a big number!

Most significant of all is that the programme (already!) forms part of the DBS talent development programme. Put another way, the programme is built into the bank’s existing processes, rather than being an external activity in the way that, say, the Barclays’ accelerator, run by Techstars, in London is.

To average one prototype per every five employees, across 250 in total is remarkable.

I asked Laurence Smith, DBS Bank’s Chief Talent & Learning Officer, how they managed it: “great sponsorship from CEO, burning need to develop digital leaders thru experience, Neal (Cross)’s vision” was his tweet in reply. Note how he was free for a chat on Twitter.

What is the best Mr Gupta could do?

This is a tough one as I don’t know Mr Gupta but I am a massive fan of the approach to innovation of Neal Cross, his head of innovation at DBS. We spoke in early February when I was trying to launch Startup Bank Challenge Bali and Neal offered to come to Bali a couple of times over the month-long programme I had planned.

Neal told me how he takes his team to an eco lodge on Sumatra for their offsite meetings/strategy sessions. Neal’s view is ‘get them as far away from the office as possible’ , shoes off as a basic minimum. If it can’t be Bali, Sumatra is good enough for me.

So, I’d urge Mr Gupta to rotate as many staff as possible through the hackathon programme but to be even more ambitious and send many of them to Neal’s place in Sumatra.

It’s not just about tech, it’s as much about freeing the mind. As this blog post hopefully will prove, with finality, tech is a waste of time without brains and creativity.

Brett King

Who is he?

Brett hails from the convict colony — an Aussie from Melbourne now running Moven, a tech startup partnering with banks to accelerate quality mobile banking experiences.

Brett often talks about how his daughter has never been to a branch and wonders why ‘cheque’ is spelt that way. It’s a hint why Moven is keen on Millenials.

I met Brett last June when he spoke in London and in the Q&A, I asked something to the effect of: “Isn’t banking more about keeping people in jobs than all this tech stuff”. It was my ‘in’ to chat at the end where he invited me to join his radio show, Breaking Banks, as a correspondent.

Brett is a great ‘success’ story and I purposely use that word. He’s gone from being a programmer at HSBC in Hong Kong, to running a compliance training business in Dubai, to becoming a successful author, and, to founding Moven.

What Brett has mastered, that others can learn from, is the art of translating what the customer needs (and the business wants) into a language that coders understand.

Having led an online banking project at Investec as a novice, I am well aware that this is Brett’s true craft and is the basis of his influence today.

He looks meaner than he really is. Brett is a soft Aussie

What makes Brett influential?

Brett’s influence comes from what he has done — it’s a matter of empirical record. He’s taken his actual experience and used it to write books that influence how folks today think about banking.

Unlike someone like Chris Skinner (I’m not picking on you) who has also written a book, Brett is an industry participant, as CEO of Moven. It’s like the unspoken words when you have an MBA strategy lecturer that can actually tell stories about strategies he or she devised in business, and not in theory.

I also like the fact that Brett has chosen to host a radio show and its title (Breaking Banks) should not be seen as being anti banks. All he is really saying is that banks, and other financial services participants, are broken., And he is right - the financial crisis proved it.

What is the best Brett could do?

What interests me the most is whether Brett can use his influence to get some of the seemingly endless funds being dropped on ‘me to’ payment-type tech in London and New York into either blockchain-based startups or large-scale financial inclusion projects.

Matteo Rizzi

Who is he?

The Italian in jeans and a black t-shirt. Of course. I can half imagine him on a Harley Davidson outside the Bank of England with a plate of pasta for Mark Carney.

Arguably Matteo is not a banker but I’m going to defend his inclusion on this list, because, to me, he may as well be one — he works for one.

I’m fairly certain I first saw Matteo at the Rainmaking Loft as part of FinTech Week in March 2014. It was the opening event (I believe) of Startupbootcamp FinTech’s London launch, and Matteo spoke last on his panel — and he made us laugh (in English)!

As I learned over the months that followed, Matteo ‘came’ from the depths of Swift and, with his colleagues Mela and Nektarios, they created Innotribe and, more importantly, re-invented themselves as people, as a team. Mela and Nek told me this one night after a hackathon. It says a lot about them for sharing that story.

Matteo has a really tough job — he lives in Brussels but is travelling each week, scouting startups for his fund. Yet, he is generous with his time and I’ve been a recipient of that, last year at Level 39.

If Matteo could take one ‘thing’ on a plane, it would surely be his 10 spare black t-shirts?

What makes Matteo influential?

It’s an easy answer — he participates miles beyond the average fund manager. He’s a mentor at Startupbootcamp Fintech, he speaks all over the world, he blogs, he gives advice.

If I really think why Matteo made my list, as I thought of it while running today, it’s because he contributes.

I should also add that Matteo counts as a banker her because he runs a bank-backed fund that has been present from the start. His black t-shirt has become symbolic of the current era of change.