What does it take to disrupt something as established as banking? We spoke to the team behind 11:FS, the start-up that’s changing the world, one bank at a time.
We spoke to David M Brear, Co-Founder and CEO, and Jason Bates, Co-Founder and consulting lead at 11:FS about what drives them to take on something as big as banking and why technology is something businesses of every size can incorporate – but only if they do it right.
“11:FS is a challenger consultancy. Digital is changing the world and shifting industries, organisations, consumers… and everything in between. And actually there’s a lot of people who provide services who haven’t moved with that shift yet,” said Jason. “So we help large financial service organisations become truly digital, to really understand it changes how they work and how it changes how they deliver things.”
Digital transformation in the way Jason talks about it isn’t a new concept but it’s one that a lot of businesses struggle with, no matter how large or small they are. That’s where 11:FS comes in. They help financial organisations to develop new products, create new business models and introduce new systems, all with digital at the core.
“Without the authenticity of a voice that’s been there and done it, it’s very difficult to get into it,” said David. “For us, 11:FS was put together on the thesis of bringing together people who’ve been there and done it. People like Jason who has co-founded challenger banks like Starling and Monzo.”
Taking that experience and authenticity and putting it to new use, with a new purpose, in a new business, was an easy choice for Jason. “What made me start the business is what makes lots of people start businesses. It’s not a big pay day and a massive exit at some point. It’s about building something of significance and impact. And working with people you want to work with.”
“That’s the major one. Working with people who you think level you up. Wherever I’ve worked there’s always been a group of people who’ve been good at what they do. You want more of that. Working with amazing people is like a weird drug. The more of it you have, the more of it you want. And that’s really been the mentality here. If you find people with a similar level of pedigree within fintech you can kind of just get into it and get going,” said Jason.
How 11:FS are moving things forward
11:FS is no stranger to turning convention on its head, their tagline is: ‘banking is only 1% done.’ It’s a reflection on the attitude that many businesses have. They feel they’re 98% there, and are so confident in the way that they do things that digital (often seen as an optional extra to cash and time strapped businesses) won’t effect much change at all.
“We’re trying to get people out of this ‘digitised’ viewpoint… to really see the benefit and difference that digital can make. We’re not just telling [businesses] about it, we’re actually helping them launch things with it,” said Jason.
“The terrifying thing about it is that banks have spent billions digitising but not really moving things forward,” said David. “It’s alarming investment and underwhelming change. We want to create more of a shift in mentality than a shift in technology. We’re not saying ‘here’s 99 other technologies you need to invest in’, it’s about how you get people to think and act differently. And if they do those things there’s going to be a shift in the actual outcome. And much of that is thinking more like a start-up.”
One of the reasons why we see start-ups flourishing is the advent of technology and the freedom it provides. If you have an idea then you can easily connect with any skillset, from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button. It presents a huge opportunity and new way of thinking.
“Not in 50 years or 100 years has there been a time when you’re held back by legacy mindsets. There’s an opportunity to start from scratch,” said Jason. “Who are your customers? What are their needs? How do you take technology and approach that? And that legacy mindset is what’s holding big organisations back. Now is a pivotal moment in history. And for small businesses and start-ups, it’s about as good as it gets to start new things.”
But at the heart of any business are customers and why they want your product. Understanding them is key, whether you’re a team of five or fifty.
“You ask a big bank who their customers are and it’s like… everybody who’s at least 16. In some instances, it’s like… everyone on the planet apart from three countries. They need to be more specific. Who wants a service that doesn’t feel like it’s for them? That’s where we got to with banking. No one believes in the brands because they’re not giving you anything to believe in or anything to differentiate them from the other ones who are just a different colour of card.”
The opportunity to disrupt a massive industry was an irrestistible challenge, particularly for a team who have been immersing themselves in technology for years. But don’t assume that you need a background in technology to use it to improve your own business. It’s best to get back to basics and look at specific issues you want to resolve.
“The tech is relatively irrelevant. And where most people go wrong is actually starting with ‘we need to do something with AI because it sounds sexy.’ But actually, starting with the need you actually have is best,” said David. “So if you’re a small business that has a problem with digitising your workflow or managing your stock control, then the way you enable people to solve those problems is with technology. It’s not technology for the sake of technology.”
Advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners
“I’ve started seven or eight businesses. I’ve been through the loop a few times and the advice I’d give is.. finding that first customer and delivering something of value to them. Business cards. Everyone starts off being like ‘business cards; let’s get a logo’. It has no impact on the business at the start,”said Jason. “It’s easy, it gives you that buzz but it’s not really running a business. It’s the stuff that’s not comfortable that drives a business forward. And it’s always like finding a customer, solving a need. So people make business too complex. It’s super simple. You’re doing something of value for someone, they give you money for it.”
“Futurise or figure it out. Don’t sweat all of the details, just make sure that you’ve got a directionally correct answer to what you need to do. In the nicest possible way, make stuff up as you go along but do it with intelligent people,” added David.
“Things move so quickly that a five year business plan can almost be ripped up in the first few months. The best start-ups start doing things quickly.”
With the right team, right technology and right attitude to put the customer first, you can make any business a success. Whether you want to change the face of banking or transform your local area with unique products and services, keep this at the heart of your business.
“What we’ve done in 15 months is build a product and take it to market – that 50 banks are using. We’re working with the biggest banks on the planet. We built a global podcast network that’s downloaded in 108 companies a week – top five business podcast in the UK. We talk about banking being only 1% done but I think we’re only 1% there with what we’d like to achieve with 11:FS too.”