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Russell Goldsmith
Russell Goldsmith 30 November 2020

Podcast - Interview with Charles McManus, CEO of ClearBank

Part of our special series of episodes that we're recording in partnership with the European PR Agency Tyto and their Own Without Borders podcast, this interview is with Charles McManus, CEO of ClearBank

Charles McManus, CEO of ClearBank, the UK's first clearing bank in more than 250 years, joined Russell Goldsmith and Brendon Craigie online to record an interview for the csuite podcast’s special series on unicorn companies, being recorded in partnership with the European PR agency, Tyto.

Charles explained that if you are one of the regulated financial institutions (FI) in the UK today, you need to clear your payments through the UK payments platform each day. If you have the latest tech such as, 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 against the ‘big four’.

Charles said that you want to get to the front-end retail in terms of making a difference and the back end is less exciting even though it's fundamentally important to the whole proposition. During Covid there has been such a big shift from use of cash to contactless and digital.

That has played into the need for real time, low human touch, faster payments. That's exactly the service that ClearBank provides. He said that it is an aspiration of theirs to become a unicorn, to grow a very sustainable, real business, rather than a flash in the pan or a fad. You've got to be additionally agile and strong and take the tough decisions to get through and become sustainable.

With Brexit on the horizon, Charles explained the impact it could have on the business and explained that 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.

He said that post Brexit, that all changes and the Bank of England and PRA have been doing a lot in allowing overseas banks to actually operate in the UK. ClearBank is helping its clients in actually ensuring that they have got all of their passporting rights in the UK. For those that don't, going back to their respective countries within the EU, they are actually looking at how they serviced them in relation to their presence within Europe.

Charles added that it's no secret that they have been looking at setting up a European operation to do exactly that. There is no question that it is a challenge, the preparations of banks overall have done a really good job. Charles said that they want to make sure they have got maximum opportunities of their SME's even though the business community in the EU market going forward is unknown. They need to get it sorted out because it’s hard enough during Covid-19, uncertainty does not help economic growth.

ClearBank has been fortunate in regard to Covid-19 and Charles stressed the importance of being able to show empathy. Of their 259 employees, Charles said 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 them. They have on boarded new employees and furloughed no one.

Charles said that they have absolutely had to balance talking about their successes and being empathetic to other businesses in the current climate, as one of the things that he feels very strongly about and cannot stand is, is any form of arrogance. He believes that they have always got so much more to do, to improve.

They celebrate their successes as a team, but at the same time, they keep their feet very firmly on the ground in terms of running as good as the payments they settled yesterday and they will tomorrow, and that is very much part of their culture.

Charles believes that ClearBank are in a very fortunate position, they have got no legacy IT and therefore were able to build the culture from scratch. They have defined their values and how they wanted to operate the bank in a very modern, fintech, flat structure. They don't want to keep recruiting people that are like them, they want all the inclusion and diversity.

Charles said that he does talk to every new joiner about those values, experience, what matters, and through reinforcement of all code of conduct, whether it's stand ups among the team or virtual pub quizzes or charities or downtime or hackathon, or the way they operate management committees or indeed boards.

Charles believes that the world had to change in relation to bullying behaviour and calling it out that someone can make £50m a year but actually, as an individual doesn't know how to behave, doesn't know how to treat other people and that is being looked upon as acceptable because of the amounts of money that they've made.

Charles enjoys being a spokesman of the company, but it should never be about one individual, any leader knows you're only as good as the team behind you. He believes that doing too much in terms of speaking is not a good thing.

The other aspect in terms of leadership skills, and very important during Covid-19, has been empowering down, faster decision making, not let the top suffocate the business and let your people shine. Authentic storytelling with interjection of facts is something that is a real skill as a leader.

Communicating internally is another challenge, especially during Covid-19. He said that they have had to adapt and develop new techniques to communicate their culture. Charles said that the teams’ biggest feedback is that they are really missing the social interaction of being together

When asked about advice he would give, Charles said that when speaking to people more senior to use the ‘you've got five minutes with god’ drill. This is where you imagine you only have five minutes with the person, and you need to be clear and concise. He also said to never have regrets.

Every good leader, exceptional leader no less, has got to be a good listener and two things Charles would say to his younger self; listening and speed of decision making.

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