S02E08: Charles McManus, ClearBank

In this episode of the Without Borders podcast and part of our European unicorn series, we speak to Charles McManus, CEO of ClearBank.

The UK’s first clearing bank in more than 250 years, ClearBank eschews entrenched legacy platforms and instead utilises the cloud to make Banking-as-a-Service efficient, fast and cost-effective. Founded in 2017, it now supports over 80 financial institutions on its payment platform and is close to unicorn status.

Listen to this instalment to find out about where ClearBank sits on passporting rights after the Brexit negotiations, a successful transition to remote working, communication challenges and why it took the UK so long to found a clearing bank.

The interview, as ever, was co-hosted with Russell Goldsmith of the csuite podcast.


csuite podcast 115 – ClearBank – Charles McManusv2.mp3 

Russell: [00:00:00] Thanks for downloading show 115 of the csuite podcast, the 8th in our special series of episodes that we are recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto, and their own Without Borders podcast, where we are interviewing leaders of unicorn companies to find out about the key issues, pain points and challenges that start-ups face and how they can address them with a strategic approach to marketing and communications. 


My name is Russell Goldsmith and once again on co-hosting this unicorn interview with Tyto’s founder, Brendon Craigie. And joining us both online is Charles McManusthe CEO of ClearBank, the UK’s first clearing bank in more than 250 years. And they launched in 2017 and is already close to achieving unicorn status. So welcome to the show, Charles. Do you want to start by giving us a quick overview of the business and also what it actually means to be a clearing bank? 


Charles: [00:00:51] Yes, absolutely. And delighted to be with you in relation to this podcast. So, yes, I was very fortunate to meet our co-founder of the business, it was Nick Alton. A number of your listeners may know, Nick, in relation to founding world pay. He also founded Cash Flows, and Nick was way back 2015, 16, thinking about that was the arrival of the new retail banks, like Atom and Metro and others. And obviously the ones that everyone knows today in relation to Starling and Monzo. 


But he was asking himself the question of where was the new infrastructure clearing bank? Without being too technical, just for a moment, essentially, if you are one of the regulated financial institutions in the UK today, so you’re a credit union or a building society or a bank or an e-money license holder, you need to clear your payments through the UK, payments platform each day. And traditionally you’ve gone to a clearing bank to do that. There used to be 16 clearing banks in the UK and through market consolidation today they’re essentially only the big four. 


And so from Nick’s idea, if you have the latest tech in terms of Microsoft Azure and cloud and you actually provide the same service and real time payments, then you could bring a whole different experience to those regulated FI’s and compete essentially against the big four in relation to looking after your chaps and backs and fast payments and cheques and all of that good stuff in relation to a new world, as Nick quoted in relation to the original slogan that you have as well in relation to first new clearing bank and 250 years, that shows you how long it’s taken to someone to take the idea and turn it into reality. 


We’re very privileged to hold that position and now offer clearing services to all those financial institutions. And so, you will have gathered we are a B2B proposition. We don’t actually face consumers in terms of B2C, but all our services make the difference in relation to consumers ultimately being able to make real time, faster payments et al. 


Brendon: [00:02:56] And I guess Charles just sort of begs the question, why is it taken so long for the UK to have a new clearing bank? 


Charles: [00:03:05] What a great question. It really is a good question. And of course, inevitably, when you are talking about infrastructure or the pipework that actually, payments actually go through, that’s the boring. It’s the back end. Everyone loves the latest app in terms of something I can get on an app and it can give me this amazing experience. No one thinks about when you click and you make a payment or faster payments or you set up a direct debit, what actually happens at the back end? Do you just want your cash to appear wherever you set it? And so, it’s not very sexy, right? The infrastructure end of it. 


But in the new fintech world, it’s actually the empowerment of all of those brilliant things. So, new people doing new things without the back end actually being real time and all the sexy tech. Actually, it would ruin the whole experience. I think the answer to your question is everyone goes where ultimately is the consumer rules and you want to get to the front end retail in terms of making a difference, that actually the back end is less exciting and interesting, albeit actually it’s fundamentally important in relation to the whole proposition. 


I think it’s really just been that focus where retail has sort of ruled SME, the infrastructure side is has been neglected, but actually is the most important part. And that’s really what our opportunity has been all about in that it is new. There aren’t a lot of people are actually doing it. We want it to be a first mover in relation to that change and help fintechs essentially enable them to then disrupt financial services at the front end. And as a vision, it’s been really exciting in terms of the journey we’ve been on. And we’ll talk about it even through COVID-19 of enabling our customers to really make a big difference in servicing their customers through even pre COVID. 


But now very much during COVID, where obviously there’s been such a big shift in relation to use of cash and cheques that actually switching on to contactless and digital rails, but as all played into the need for real time, low human touch, faster payments. That’s exactly the service that we provide. 


Russell: [00:05:15] Charles, I mentioned in the intro, that you’re close to achieving unicorn status, are you able to give an update on the current funding levels. 


Charles: [00:05:23] Well, I can, and we don’t. We will albeit a private company and we file our stat accounts and we’re very open and transparent in relation to our customers and contacts with our financial position. Clearly, it’s an aspiration of ours to become a unicorn, grow a very sustainable, real business, essentially, rather than a flash in the pan in relation to fintechs or fad or whatever. 


We’ve been actually growing it very sustainably, successfully and managing our growth, and we’re on our way in terms of going up the J curve in relation to valuation. We have two billionaire shareholders that have been our main provider in relation to funds and have been awesome in relation to as we burn through our capital as a loss-making initial start-up now moving through to a regulated bank. 


And we’ve got a very clear path to profitability. And as we’ve done that, essentially our valuation, internal valuation has continued to increase and we’re discussing with our investors essentially widening that investor base. But to answer your question specifically at the moment in relation to the total funding in relation to cet1 capital is in excess of about one hundred and fifty million pounds of the main two billionaires. 


Plus our minority shareholders, including management and the executives that are actually funded. So, it’s at that level with ambition to continue to do more. And we’ve got wider expansion plans in relation to Europe and indeed US dollars and others that will require additional capital funding. But that’s the best I can answer without disclosing more in relation to more will come as we go up that. But we’re very fortunate having two billionaire shareholders that very much have backed the business to date and we presume we’ll continue to do so in the future. 


Russell: [00:07:09] That’s fair enough. Well, I appreciate you giving us some of the some of the insight. 


Brendon: [00:07:12] That’s fantastic. Yeah, I think you kind of noted that, Charles, that it’s been a challenging year. One aspect of that has been covid-19 and we’re going to come on to that. But I guess in the background, we have the Brexit negotiations, and they seem to be very much back on the news agenda at the moment. And we’re just curious to know what, if any, impact is that having on your business? Is there any kind of special preparations you need to be making as a clearing bank? 


Charles: [00:07:40] Another great question, and it’s a complex environment for those that are involved in financial services and the word passporting in relation to the passporting rights, where in financial services, essentially within Europe. Everyone can passport with the right regulatory approvals to operate in all the European countries. Of course, post Brexit that all changes and the Bank of England, PRA have been doing a lot in allowing overseas banks to actually operate in the UK. 


And to the extent of us looking at how we operate in relation to the EU, that’s been on every UK banks agenda for a number of years now. So there are still a number of uncertainties in relation to whether we can service some of our European customers that have operations in the UK, whether we can continue to service them post 31st December, and we’re helping them in relation to actually ensuring they’ve got all of their passporting rights in the UK that we can do that. For those that don’t, going back to their respective countries within the EU, we’re actually looking at how we serviced them in relation to our presence within Europe. 


It’s no secret that we’ve been looking at setting up a European operation to do exactly that, almost irrespective of Brexit. And indeed, we’ve recently had to fill the board and strategic discussions with our investors in terms of those plans. And we still very much have plans in place in relation to setting up a European entity, which will be an equivalent in relation to ClearBank. And so, we will have a European entity and a UK entity, and be able to service both UK and European clients seamlessly under the right jurisdictions. 


It is no question a challenge in relation to the preparations of banks overall have done a really good job in getting prepared. But undoubtedly, like year 2k, and another major milestone of change, there will be issues in relation to people not being able to trade or continue their business without the regulatory approvals. But I think most people are in good shape. 


I think it’s there after the opportunities and the equivalents on passporting and how the ECB and the Bank of England and PRIFCA with the others actually match up in relation to the UK not being treated as a third world country in terms of. Europe on an equivalent basis, being able to carry on and do financial services, businesses or business seamlessly across the borders, and I think that’s where we all watch Boris and the government is there’s going to be a hard or soft landing in terms of what’s coming up.  


And on the wider economic basis, I think that’s the aspect we concern more in terms of where UK, PRC will be as compared to where ClearBank and our clearing business will be, which should be in good shape. But we want to make sure we’ve got maximum opportunities of our SME’s and although obviously the business community in relation to the EU market going forward, and I think that’s the big unknown. But we need to get sorted out because as we all know, businesses, it’s hard enough in C-19, uncertainty does not help economic growth. And so, the removing of that around Brexit, we need to get done as fast as possible. 


Russell: [00:10:51] Well, just picking up on that covid-19 issue, I mean, what impact has Coronavirus had on your ability to move the business forward? 


Charles: [00:10:59] We’ve been really fortunate. I’m, we’ll come later on, perhaps to leadership and the rest, being able to show empathy and the whole culture of the bank in relation to the human aspects of what’s happened in the UK in the world, absolute tragedy in relation to some of the things that have actually happened in people’s human lives. 


But in relation to ClearBank, we’ve had an amazing run. So we went a week before lockdown and back in March we’ve got two hundred and fifty nine employees in the UK, and everyone went on to remote working and we continue to be working from home right back from that week in March, albeit we have opened our Bristol and London offices to those that wanted to go into the office in the last few weeks. And we’ve had seven and eight people in terms of locals that have actually gone into our offices. And again, if we go into many lockdowns, we’ll look at whether we will leave those open. 


But of our two hundred and 59 employees, they’ve done an amazing job in working from home, being a latest cloud tech enabled bank, remote working has been second nature to all of us. We’ve on boarded new employees. We’ve furloughed no one. We’ve on boarded six to seven new financial institutions each month throughout that whole period, we’ve had record volume weeks, we’ve had record on boarding, and we got tremendous momentum in the business. 


Indeed, part of the challenges we’ve had, if you think of our tech teams, for example, the average age of twenty five is actually educating them and looking after their well-being of not sitting in front of a screen at home for 14 hours or is at least traveling to work coffee machines and then going and getting a sandwich at lunch. Naturally, it breaks up the day and teaching people how to look after themselves and not burn out through remote working, those are some of the challenges we’ve actually had with our workforce rather than furloughing and essentially worrying how we get where we’re going to make a revenue and keep the electricity bill for next week. 


So, we’ve been very, very fortunate in terms of what we’ve done, but it’s really down to the team and our tech that’s enabled us to actually operate that way. 


Russell: [00:13:17] Yeah, just picking up on what you’re saying about the successes, do you have to balance the not shouting too much about that in the current climate or because of how many businesses are suffering and industries are suffering? Is there a balance between saying how successful you are and being sympathetic or empathetic to other companies? 


Charles: [00:13:36] Absolutely. I think anyone who’s seen some of my previous podcasts or sort of comments, I talk a lot about culture of the bank, and I was privileged at the start to help try and build that cliche words in relation to culture, but try to make them real in relation to transparency and honesty and integrity and telling it the way it is and all of that of trying to live that within the firm. 


One of the things that I feel very strongly about is sort of egos and arrogance. And I think one thing I cannot stand is, is any form of arrogance. And therefore, to answer your question in relation to how good we are and look what we’ve done. Absolutely not. The whole of our premises, we’ve always got so much more to do to improve. How can we service our customers? We’re honoured to have the customers we have. 


And that’s the approach we take in relation to anyone who shouts from the rooftops of how wonderful they are. In my mind, you‘re only going one way together either the company jet or the others in terms of selling stock. That’s not how ClearBank operates. We’ve still got a lot of ambition, a lot of vision that we want to do. And to the extent of this constant learning of how we can get better in terms of resiliency and servicing our customers, that’s very much the ethos. So, you’re quite right. It is a balance. And we celebrate our successes as a team, but at the same time. We keep our feet very firmly on the ground in terms of running as good as the payments we settled yesterday, and we will tomorrow, and that is very much part of our culture. 


Brendon: [00:15:09] I think that humility and that focus on your culture comes through very clearly, Charles. And I think in everything that we’ve seen you say within articles and what’s on your company website and things, how do you go about embedding that culture into your business? What’s your approach to doing that? 


Charles: [00:15:28] Another great question! And obviously it starts, we’ve had a very fortunate position that we’ve built it from scratch. Like our tech, we’ve got no legacy IT, our COO, Nigel Walder, who’s worked at all the large banks and the rest every time he talks to the community of saying what a privilege it is to have no legacy and try and keep it that way. We were able, therefore, to build the culture from scratch. And certainly, in my 35 years around investment banks and retail banks and wealth management, I’ve seen the good and the bad and the rest. 


And so, in taking up this mantle, we as an Exco team to him essentially defined our values and how we wanted to operate the bank in a very modern fintech flat structure. And the values that we all feel are very important, obviously, it being a regulated financial institution, having a banking license, we also wanted to mix the fintech creativity and innovation with mixing that with, if you like, the senior managers regime and all the rulebook of being a bank. Those two aren’t necessarily complementary. We’ve tried to make them so. But rules and restrictions may restrict that creativity and innovation. And we’ve had a really big challenge within the bank to actually get the best of both worlds. 


But the embedding point, it starts from the top in terms of our team, we don’t want to keep recruiting people that are like us and that we want all the inclusion and diversity, but we want them to share the same values but actually think and act and everything else be very different and unique and what they bring to the party but buy into sharing those values. And I do talk, for example, of every new joiner and I see a lunch, just talking for an hour in terms of those values, experience and what matters, and through reinforcement of essentially all code of conduct, which sounds sort of old fashioned in a very big bang, but reinforcing those every day, whether it’s stand ups among the team or our virtual pub quizzes or charities or downtime or hackathon, or the way we operate management committees or indeed boards. 


It’s reinforcing those behaviours and actually trying to get rid of those the ones that we don’t like in terms of bureaucracy or people won’t make decisions or people don’t tell it the way it is and it’s fluff and bluff and whatever, what are the facts, make a decision, itetrate and go. And so, everyone talks about culture that you can’t be in a rule book, you’ve got to live it. 


You’ve got to try and live it and make it real. And that’s what we’ve tried to do and reinforce it as you get bigger, because as you get bigger, it gets harder to maintain all those things we love in relation to small things and innovation and speed of decision making. The more people and the more clever people you get, the more opinions you get, it slows a lot down and we’re going through those pains and trying to make sure we retain the things we love as we grow. 


And that comes from strength and throughout the whole organization, not just from what I may say at the top or what I value, it’s top to bottom with everyone actually trying to live it day to day. 


Brendon: [00:18:45] Have you found doing that now you’ve been operating remotely for a length of time. Is that have you kind of had to develop some, like, new techniques to communicate your culture? How have you been managing that? 


Charles: [00:18:56] Yes, we have. Gosh, what a challenge and a challenge for everyone living on teams and Zoom and WebEx, S.L and the productivity going higher and efficiency of a number of meetings. 


But you lose all the social interaction, you lose that sort of welcome at the lift and the small talk around the whole meeting and interaction and talking to people and all that physical aspect. And the longer it’s gone on, that certainly has become more of a challenge in relation to become, each meeting is a work focused. And so, you’re quite right, we’ve had to invent a whole load, as a number of other great companies have too, in relation to where we have a stand up every Thursday at five o’clock for the whole bank, various Exco members or I will talk about various different topics, we’ve carried on doing that virtually with everyone on Teams. 


We’ve then supplemented that with the likes of virtual pub quizzes or virtual hackathons, even to the extent of virtual gyms and yoga classes. And all those sorts of things, to try and get people to interact, and in the last few weeks and months we’ve been doing, subject to the rule of six and various others going into people’s patios or one on one performance appraisals and going to someone’s house to actually do it and creating that interaction. But it is it’s a real struggle. Again, our board meeting an offsite, we did a virtual strategy off site for two days. 


We would have had board dinners, Exco mixing with our investors and boards, all that social down time space where you talk about ‘how’s your family’ or ‘how are you feeling’ or ‘what’s going well and not’ as compared to ‘right, we’re talking about this’, you have to work really hard at creating those forums. And again, we’ve also used surveys in relation to of all people extensively, which again, people can view sort of negatively, but really trying to get people to speak up of how they’re feeling or their mental health or loneliness or, you know, what makes a difference or what they need and looking after them. 


The HR team has done some really great work on listening and how we can actually change things as it’s become evident this is going on longer and longer. So those that didn’t have proper workstations and were flat sharing and operating out of their bedroom, you know, not just the practical aspects, but also help in relation to all the help lines and wellbeing and classes and whatever. So tremendous challenge and not easy to do it well. And whatever you’ve done, you always, you’ve got to keep doing a lot more, and particularly the longer this goes on. 


Brendon: [00:21:36] It’s lovely to everything that you are doing. I think for me personally, observation I have is that with remote working, it’s like you say that you kind of you can start in the morning and you can work on right through the evening and you don’t have the sort of punctuation marks that you would have in a normal day. You know? Like what?

Like you say you don’t have the full stops that mean you kind of take a bit of a break. And I think without those things, it can be very draining. And so you do need to find that kind of ways to pause. And just I don’t know, just lighten the tone a little bit. 


Charles: [00:22:09] Yeah. I mean, I had a one to one with our head of onboarding actually yesterday morning. And though I try and it’s only 259, but I actually get to the so-called shop floor, although we don’t have one in relation of the real work gets done and the real action. And Jonathan was saying to me in the morning, they have the check-in as a team and they do all of that, they also have one at three, four o’clock for half an hour. 


And they don’t talk about work. They talk about other things for that half an hour in the afternoon of how they’re feeling anything to do with sports or anyone can talk about anything. And then they’ll have five minutes chatting about work at the end. And I thought that was a great idea, where they deliberately in the afternoon, they will just have a free format, bring a cup of tea and just have a chat about anything. And it’s really important. It brought it home to me that I don’t do enough of that. 


Brendon: [00:23:03] Yeah, I like the idea of the afternoon cup of tea. One of the things that we saw you quoted on was sort of talking about some of the I guess the bad reputation in the financial services sector has got in terms of maybe seem to be like a machismo culture. 


And I think it is interesting because we’ve seen the tech industry has kind of suffered from similar attacks recently in terms of the culture in the Silicon Valley. And, you know, and I think that’s come under similar criticism. I just wondered, how have you protected ClearBank against that kind of culture?  


Charles: [00:23:38] Fortunate or not or crazy to actually live through the financial crises and work in investment banks? And I grew up at Hambros the Barings crisis when Nick Leeson blew up Barings in relation to his Singapore activities and the rest. And saw what happened there and obviously the last financial crisis in relation to NBS and the whole debt in the US and contaminating the balance sheets of banks throughout the whole world and that turning into a financial crisis. The rest. But apart from that, actually seeing at the end of the day, this is not just banking, it’s people. 


And obviously to the extent of trading floors, in particular where I grew up of A types and the stereotypes in relation to all of that. And I worked with a number of those. And you learn a lot fast. You learn about how clever people can be and why the world had to change in relation to, if you like, bullying behaviour and just calling it out that someone can make 50 million pounds a year in relation to it. 


But actually, as an individual doesn’t know how to behave, doesn’t know how to treat other people, that’s being looked upon as acceptable because of the amounts of money that they’ve actually made. And then what happens in terms of the size of their bonus? You know, is there a surprise there’s an issue with the city and bankers and bonuses with all of that of behaviours that then flowed from it. So, in that sense, bankers have brought it on themselves. The world has changed. Right?

I go back to Hambros, there used to be sort of seven different grades of staff restaurant, depending on your status and hierarchy. ClearBank has no hierarchy whatsoever. I don’t have a large office. We all sit together. It’s not about our titles. So I think the answer, long answer to your question is having seen some of those behaviours of sort of arrogance and bullying, and it’s going to be my way or no way, of adapting that in terms of a fintech innovative culture and all about team, that it is so much about team, put the customer together with all the functions in the bank and iterate and almost put them in a padded cell for weeks on end. 


And evolve something, something that great has got to happen if you’ve got the right mentality of it. And that’s so much better than having sort of the management on the seventh floor and all the other businesses at one, two and three. And they get called up to the seventh floor when they’ve done something wrong that doesn’t breed innovation and creativity. And as you can tell it’s something I’m quite passionate about. 


In terms of those behaviours, we’ve tried to root out those type of behaviours of that’s not team basically in relation to the old cliches of the way we want the bank to operate. And I’ve been very keen in trying to lead the bank, leading by example that I will not tolerate those behaviours and no one else should. And that’s how we’ve basically grown the culture within the bank. 


Russell: [00:26:38] Just picking up on what you were saying there about innovative culture, and where would you say you’ve seen the greatest innovation in banking and financial services? 


Charles: [00:26:47] Well, I think the UK fintech scene in coming onto it or coming into it in 2016, 2017 of obviously big tech in relation to the US. But in the UK, we’ve got one of the best fintech industries there is. I mean it’s quite incredible when I got involved and to the extent of having been in large banks all my career of watching the fintech explosion, and again credit to the PRA and the Bank of England and the PRA FCA and having a competition part of their mandate and the new banks development that the PRA have of looking at the number of new banks that have come through, including the Starling’s and Monzo’s and obviously ourselves, and continue to be the case. 


The UK is really being fantastic in relation to all of that. But there’s a number of other areas around the world, equally, Israel is another great example where they have got an amazing fintech scene, not one that shouted loudly, but anyone who knows the world in relation to all the support that they’ve been given. Also, their regulatory environment, the Netherlands is a good example. And others that don’t have that mandate in terms of either their central bank or their regulators find it very, very hard in terms of encouraging and thriving and regulating and bringing through new regulated fintech businesses. 


Ireland is a good example of that, where they had the financial crisis, The Central Bank of Ireland does not have a competition and found it very hard to embrace essentially new digital banks regulatory, albeit their government wanted Ireland to be, or the former government, open for business and new jobs. You have to have it all aligned to create that overall environment for those fintechs and the rest to actually thrive and survive and go on and strengthen. 


But I think there are some really good pockets around the world, but I think there are also some great opportunities in the US and elsewhere where, obviously Asia has led very strongly across the West in relations are still much more development if, of course, C-19 and the recession doesn’t actually kill off some of that in the short term. 


Russell: [00:29:06] Yeah, you mentioned a few businesses, Monzo, Starling. Do you speak regularly? Do you collaborate at all? 


Charles: [00:29:15] I like that question, actually. In that, so of course we are, if you like, they can be our customers. I’m not competing directly with the likes essentially of Monzo and a number of others or Revolut and then potentially we can service them in relation to payments infrastructure. Short answer is yes, we do, of course, whether it’s the PRA CEO annual conferences or a number of events, and from Starling essentially would be on podiums, we have been together, I’ve got to know quite well in relation to the crew that were, if you like, originally formed Monzo from the issues that they have with sort of Starling. 


Yes, there is a network, but it’s all totally professional in relation to, for those that we are directly competing against each other it’s a very healthy professional relationship. Yes, of course, we talk to each other and we interact with each other. And I’m pleased with the relationships that we have in relation to the UK scene and others where the landscape is there, and we can compete. 


The issue has been the fintechs and the loss making banks against the big four as COVID-19 is come in, is that a level playing field? And that’s a whole other topic where essentially the flight to quality and funding rates and regulation, does it go bias back in the favour of the big four rather than the newcomers when things get difficult?  


And certainly, we’ve aligned in relation to a number of those initiatives where we feel there should be more support from the fintech through difficult periods in relation to that. So that’s certainly areas where we’ve aligned in terms of arguments, the regulators and the Bank of England. 


Russell: [00:30:58] Yeah. And sticking with the whole covid climate, I mean, we can assume that there’s a lot of CEOs will be grappling with how to build that business in this current economy. I mean, what’s your take on this? And are there any things that are working especially well for you? 


Charles: [00:31:13] I think undoubtedly people will have recognised that obviously the risk off and the credits environment are actually tighteningit’s easing slightly. But capital and funding investors and actually using their capital fintech is consuming a tremendous amount of capital in terms of new capital. 


And if you can’t get that, then essentially we’ve seen a number of fintechs that actually have got to stop and they have run out of money and cannot get that investment. Therefore, we took actions of tightening our belts in terms of costs. And also, if you like, capital conservation, that’s being responsible and running a loss, making fast growing business, that actually you take those actions regardless and don’t become complacent in relation to your investment or investors and funding. 


So it is, like any tightening of financial crisis or anything that happens in nature, the weakest don’t survive. And therefore, you’ve got to be additionally agile and strong and take the tough decisions to actually get through and become sustainable. And so, my advice certainly would be to take the responsibility, start at home in terms of owning your own risk, owning your own cost base, being ruthless in relation to the success of your proposition. 


If you’ve got a conviction and belief and you’ve got the team and the proposition is sound, you’ll find that investment, but it’s really hard and you’ve got to fight hard and you’ve got to be, as I said, ruthless in relation to whether it’s working or not, there isn’t room, yes, you want passion and emotion, but you also need really harsh financial common sense. And if a proposition is actually not going to stand long term, you will not find investment for it. Change tack and find one that does. 


Brendon: [00:33:05] So this is obviously been a time for strong leadership. And I’m just curious to understand, how do you see your role as an external spokesperson and representative of the company and has that kind of your perception of that role developed over time? 


Charles: [00:33:22] So much has been written on leadership and a topic that I’m personally sort of interested in. It’s fine when things are going well and customers happy and you’re making money and want to be slightly more complacent or management teams are, a lot’s been written in relation to you should be managing as if you were in a state of crisis when you’re not. 


Because on the basis you’re not, you’re actually, it’s only a matter of time before things are actually going to go wrong. And so being on your A game, bring your A game to work every day as a mantra is something that is very hard to do. It’s like premiership league football in terms of consistency. Can you play a level of intensity on a consistent basis? I certainly try to do that. 


But I think going back to your question, yes, I enjoy being a spokesman of the company, but it should never be about one individual. So my Exco team, in relation to Nigel Waldron, Simon Jones and others carry the load to in terms of other panels and external views and showing the strength and depth of the company in relation to it’s not a one man band and any leader knows you’re only as good as the team behind you and all those other clichés. Well, it’s true. So, yes, in relation to that presidential messaging and communication role, really, really important. And yes, we’ve done more of it, if you like, as we’ve had something to say. Anso in the early stages, it was much more inward looking in relation to actually getting the proposition to work servicing those customers and let the product speak for itself. 


I’ve never been able to be very good in relation to software salesman of software can do everything and that sell, the product has to do the sell and that you need the trust and integrity of the people around it, that actually you do business with those. And that’s very much the model in relation to, I find doing too much in terms of speaking, then that’s not a good thing. It’s got to be the product doing the speaking, not the management team. 


The other aspect in terms of leadership skills, and very important in covid-19, has been empowering down, faster decision making and not let the top sort of suffocate the business and let your people shine, let them come through, empower them, give them the direction, but let them go. Put the cheques and balances and monitoring around that. That’s what leadership is about, not all about me. It’s about them and growing and creating that team in alignment to let them do their thing in relation to that.  


And to me, that’s what I take most pride about, not how good I am as a presenter, I’m constantly trying to improve in relation to presentation and communication. So those would be my comments in relation to your question.  


Brendon: [00:36:14] Just picking up on the point about communication, you say that it’s something you’ve had to work at. I was just curious, you know, whether you were a natural communicator or you’ve had to kind of formulate a plan to get better. 


Charles: [00:36:29] It’s interesting, again, because another big bank issue over the years, going back in my career where you used to have to focus constantly on appraisals, on weaknesses, got to work on your weaknesses, ignore your strengths just focus, you’re not very good at this. 


So you must work at it. And of course, as modern leadership theory is, growing out of you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and all those cliches. No, no, no you need to focus on your strengths and exemplify those and be cognisant of your weaknesses and development points, no one can now talk about weaknesses. It’s all challenges, development points. And so, answering your question, I’ve always wanted to develop more in relation to public speaking and communication and do better. 


But I think there’s a base level getting on with people, whatever the level is, not being able to talk to them in an authentic way, on their level, whatever that level is, I think is so important in terms of communication and leadership and being in touch. And that gets all the way through. It’s political awareness and EQ and body language and saying the right thing or the wrong thing at the right time, we all try and do that. Very, very hard to do. And you see the politicians in terms of the stress they’ve been under of saying the right thing or wrong thing or whatever it is, we get it wrong 


 But you’ve got to learn to do that and be authentic as part of that process. I think the final comment I would make is you can get lost in facts, the ability to story tell and make sense of it all and then interject the facts is something a lot of us, as leaders actually try to do. Can we relate and tell that story and interject facts rather than lose the audience in terms of sort of boring, dull boffin like facts, in terms of not being able to put it together. Storytelling, and that’s not fake news or anything else, of authentic storytelling with interjection of facts, I think is something that is a real skill as a leader. 


Russell: [00:38:33] And what about from an internal comms perspective, so you’re talking about being an external spokesperson, how do you navigate this need to communicate with individuals, with teams and then the entire company, particularly with so many people obviously working remotely. 


And I know you touched on before your numerous calls with teams and Zoom and WebEx and every other video platform. But how are you managing to get across those issues? 


Charles: [00:39:00] Again, it’s another challenge on the basis of making sure it’s at the right time, it’s relevant and we take enough time to get it right. And obviously in a fast-paced moving environment of tripping up some of those and making sure you’re still connected to the people that really matter and I talk about doing the real work so important. 


Whilst innovation and agile and all of that people are used to change, majority of us still don’t like change. It’s either hard work or something different or you’ve got to think about it, and we want everyone to love that and embrace it. People have opinions and doing all that. So we work hard as a team in thinking about the impact in relation to making a change and communicating it and understanding how people will react to it and not over rotating relation to that, but making sure we’ve all thought about it, because what we might think about it, obviously, the receiver of communications, is different from the person that’s actually delivering the message, so we put a lot of work in, in trying to think through all the angles and from their perspective, what is it they want? What do they need to know? Are we giving them the right tools and information in doing that? 


And we don’t get that right all the time, but we work very hard at it to make sure you put yourself in the position of the receiver and don’t get lost in ‘this is the message we must tell them, and this is what they need to know the rest’. To make it land, it’s got to be understandable, like any communication in terms of the receiver. And so we work really hard at delivering that and then the right forms and one the ones and the social setting, as well as the work setting and reinforcement of the messages. It’s hard work to do it well, it really is. 


Russell: [00:40:50] And you’ve touched on a number of challenges in this conversation. But what would you say has been the biggest communications challenge that you’ve ever faced? 


Charles: [00:40:59] I think to keep everyone, so the teams the biggest feedback we’ve had is we’re really missing the social interaction of being together. We can create that on teams and everyone having a lot of fun looking at people’s pets and their decor or their bookcase in the background or the different clothes that they’re wearing, of getting to know each other in terms of the different settings. 


But the thing that most of the team yearn for is actually to be together with their team. And we’ve not, sounds so obvious, but we’ve done smaller groups and whatever. But where used to be all together in the room and having got a drink or whatever and having a teaching or stand up on a topic or someone talk about something they’ve done with the client or sharing in that interaction, that’s the one that we’ve got to work really hard on and indeed looking forward in terms of property footprints. And is this going to be a lasting change? 


People have enjoyed the remote working and would do that for one or two or three days a week. But we need space where for the other two days a week we can actually get together as a team, and what space than we need to do that. That’s not all just workstations for everyone. It’s a different type of space. And we’ve got a team looking at that for us on a go forward basis to get that balance of a go forward basis to address the sort of social interaction, the physical interaction in relation as to people going forward. And I don’t think we’ve cracked that yet. 


Brendon: [00:42:33] And through the course of this conversation, Charles, I think we’re on to our penultimate question. You’ve shared a lot of lessons that you’ve learned over the years. Which part of the reason why we’re doing this series is to kind of pass on lessons to other kind of aspiring CEOs. I was just curious, what’s the best piece of advice that someone’s ever given you as far as communications is concerned? 


Charles: [00:42:57] Well, some of my team will know this already in that I have a number of cliche sayings. But again, we try to live them. They hit home with me and of course, I’ve used them within the bank in relation to some of the things that I think are really important. One of the examples, right, again, overused and misused, I like the word strategy of everyone using that, for example. 


But again, a former boss of mine that used to take me around investment bank bonus time and used to say, ‘everyone, Charles is working so hard. I’m sick and tired of everyone telling me how hard everyone is working at this time of year. What we need to know, Charles, is who are the people that are actually moving the needle? Who are the people that are actually making the difference in this organization? And normally it’s 25% or 30%. Those are the people that we need to make sure we’re really looking after and actually empowering them and rewarding them and giving them the challenge to actually drive the organization forward’. That’s just one example. Again, very obvious.  


But from the point of view of the needle that moving the needle expression, I think the answer to your question is another one. And communication skills, which, again, in terms of dealing with more senior people as you growing up and no commentary, you have to be terribly P.C. in relation to religion or any topics. But I used to, the drill that I had is you’ve got five minutes with god. So that’s all you have. And going and seeing a senior person, you go in and you’ve got five minutes. What points are you going to make in your five minutes? And you mustn’t come out and walk down the street and saying, if only I’d said X or Y. 


So, the succinctness, the clarity and actually the importance develop that skill that you’ve only got X time in relation to make your messages what are the messages, everyone’s got to hit home. So the five minutes with whoever it is, are the most important of your life of making those messages that will help your communication skills, of focusing on the true things you want to say and why you want to say them. And no regrets. Never have regrets. 


Russell: [00:45:11] That’s very good. This kind of this final question kind of leads on from there. I think we said before we started recording, you know, that will be about 45, 50 minutes. I think we’ve been spot on. So, so well done for that. Charles, you’ve kept our timing perfectly. 


So, our final question, and this is something we’re asking all our guests on this series of unicorn interviews. If you were to go back in time and speak to your old self, what guidance would you give about communications and what steps would you encourage yourself to take in order for you and your business to excel in communications? 


Charles: [00:45:42] Again, a really profound question isn’t really, having talked about no regrets and learnings and everything else and what I could have done better and I‘m afraid nothing revolutionary for your listeners and the rest. Honestly, from my perspective, I think two things in my own mind, and it’s very easy when you’re young and you’re ambitious, you’ve got that drive. And that’s part of that enthusiasm to actually do it, is listening. 


Every good leader, exceptional leader no less, has got to be a good listener. And if you listen and you process and you analyse, I think you’re much better. You may have your own conviction on the rest, but in challenging yourself by listening, you will undoubtedly do much better in terms of your arguments and the rest. So, I’m not, I don’t think I didn’t listen, but I would have listened even more in relation to those people that sort of matter. And you don’t know who those are either. I think the second thing which I’m passionate about, but I don’t think I’ve been good about is decision making, the procrastination and analysis paralysis, get your best people together, get all of those views, but make a decision and have the conviction to then change it if you’re wrong and keep going. Old style that was seen as a weakness. 


Again, you’ve seen the leaders on the basis that people hate people changing their minds. You turn that in its a tremendous weakness. I don’t view it as such. If you know what you’re doing, if you’re incompetent and don’t know what you’re talking about, that’s a different issue. But if you have some idea, then you need to process and make decisions and be prepared and strong enough to change it and get better. Rather than, no, I mustn’t, I’ve got to stick in the mud, it’ll be seen as a weakness. People help change. The world is moving so fast, the tech is moving so fast. You’ve got to be agile and admit when you’re wrong and move and change and go again. So those would be the two things in terms of listening and speed of decision making. 


Russell: [00:47:42] Tremendous. Charles McManus, thank you so much for taking time to join us online and chat to us today. 


Charles: [00:47:48] Thanks, guys. 


Russell: [00:47:51] There you go, Brendon. That’s number eight in our Unicorn series. Thoughts on what Charles had to say. 


Brendon: [00:47:56] I really enjoyed that. You know, we started the conversation talking about the UK’s first clearing bank in 250 years and how they’re building their business around like completely new infrastructure with no legacy. So, you kind of got that whole innovation slump. But then as we kind of went through the conversation with Charles, what you really got is just how important leadership and culture are to actually enabling their business. 


And it’s just kind of like the backbone of everything they do is all built around this culture that focuses on improvement, focuses on kind of like being open. Everyone’s opinion mattered. I just thought that was kind of a very valuable lesson for anyone who’s trying to build a disruptive business that, yes, it’s okay to have the best technology and things. But if you don’t have the culture to enable your team and allow that to prosper, then you won’t be successful. 


Russell: [00:48:54] Yeah, absolutely. Tremendous. Well, that’s it for this this eighth episode in the series with Tyto. So, if you want to find out more about ClearBankits website is very simply clear.bank, we’d love to hear your comments on today’s chat and you can share them on our Facebook page on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter feeds. They’re all linked from the top of the website at csuitepodcast.com, where you’ll also find all our previous shows and supporting show notes plus links to where you can subscribe for automatic downloads of each episode via the likes of Spotify and Apple. 

And if you’ve liked what you’ve heard, please do give us a positive rating and review. We’re, of course, available on all podcast apps to search for the Csuite podcast and hit subscribe. And don’t forget, you can also subscribe to the Without Borders podcast from our partners at Tyto, all their details are on their website and you can find that at Tyto PR.com. Just click on the podcast link in the top and that bar. If you are a unicorn leader yourself and you’d like to be part of the series, please do get in touch via the contact form on the website at Csuitepodcast.com. Of course, anyone can get in touch there with any feedback you may have. 

And finally, you can also reach me via Twitter using @RussGoldsmith or you can find me on Linkedin, but for now, thanks for listening and goodbye. 


Without Borders PR Podcast by Tyto

Tyto brings you Without Borders, a regular dose of inspiration for passionate communicators, courageous creatives and entrepreneurial business brains. Expect candid chats with the wisest old hands, bleeding edge innovators and left field thinkers and doers.