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Disruptive? Who cares?

3 min read

Disrupt banking? Only when the customer is at the heart of the reason why.

Earlier this month I attended the WiredMoney event in the palatial surroundings of the British Museum. Generally speaking, early mornings don’t trouble me that much, but on this occasion I found myself assailed by the ‘disruption’ word before I’d enjoyed a restorative cup of coffee and partaken of the generous breakfast on offer.  

Now I’m not one to ‘poo poo’ the efforts of well meaning, clever and energetic folk as they set about re-imagining the financial services industry because I’d like to think I had some skin in that game, but please, please help me! Am I alone or does the idea of disrupting anything come across as just a little pretentious? It caught me unawares but I suppose that at that time of the morning I myself was ripe for disruption. Seems to me that in the world of ‘fintech’ if you’re not disrupting something or other you’re just not doing your job.  

I enjoyed the conference, at least what I managed to stay and see. I was particularly impressed by the guys from TransferWise, BillGuard and InVenture but also by Brian Forde from MIT. I left the day understanding lots more than I had at the beginning and if there was one overall idea that resonated with me, it was a realisation that most, if not all, of the speakers and entrepreneurs were invested in helping their fellow human beings. Nobody was talking about making money and very, very little of the conference chat was about the banking industry. Bankers like nothing better than to talk about banks but personally I find that conversation mind-numbingly tedious and boring. The most compelling people at WiredMoney weren’t interested in disrupting the banking industry, they were interested in improving the lives of ordinary people and in doing so, perhaps making them customers.

I sense that when a business starts to define itself according to the needs and wants of its customers, its taken an important step in the direction of entrepreneurialism. For me at least that’s what real entrepreneurs do. Finance is not an end in itself and nor for that matter is technology - but at times you could be forgiven for believing they were. 

I am not disrupting banking because that’s an effect, it’s not an objective. I am privileged to lead the build of a bank called Atom. The purpose of that bank is to improve the lives of customers and the team in Atom are working on lots of innovative ways of doing just that. Does it matter if we are seen by other banks or by investors as being disruptive? Maybe it does but I really can’t allow that to distract Atom. Think of it another way; instead of challenging, why not champion?  

Image credit: Archives New Zealand