Thursday, February 25, 2021

Interviews with practitioners: How to transform SME banking with Kiran Mahil

Interviews with practitioners: How to transform SME banking with Kiran Mahil

Tune in for the fourth episode of DueDil Live Series 2021 to hear from Kiran Mahil, Head of Business & Commercial Accounts at Metro Bank.

During the fourth episode of DueDil Live Series 2021 Denis Dorval, COO of DueDil, welcomed Kiran Mahil, Head of Business & Commercial Accounts at Metro Bank, to the discussion table.

Good morning, all. My pleasure to have Kiran Mahil, Head of Business and Commercial Accounts at Metro Bank joining us today for the episode number four of our 2021 DueDil Live Series with practitioners of SME financing transformation. Good morning, Kiran. How are you today?

Good morning, Denis. Thank you for having me. I'm very excited to be here.

Most, most welcome. All right, cheers. I'm very excited to have you, Kiran, with us. Before we really get into the interesting part of the SME banking discussion here, Kiran, you have been working on this, and Metro Bank, for the last two years but you have also a very, very interesting background and we've learned that audience usually appreciate understanding even better the background of transformers, as we call them. It would be great if you can share a bit about yourself and how you ended up being where you are at MetroBank.

Yes, I'm very happy to share that. I've been watching the practitioner series and you've had a diverse range of speakers with really interesting backgrounds and it's clear that not everyone's born to suddenly be a transformer from day one. Your career evolves. If I think about the start to my career, it was quite traditional, quite corporate, but there was an under current innovation and wanting to drive change and deliver first-to-market change from the very beginning.

If I start right at the beginning of my career, I started out life working at McKinsey & Company which was a fabulous company to start your career in. I was based within the European Financial InstitutionCentre, so that was just such a good environment to learn all about financial institutions. Asset management, insurance, retail banking, wholesale banking, really understand how do banks work, how do they connect with each other, how does the financial system all connect together.

Coming straight out of university, it was a great experience to have. I think at the same time as well as doing the consulting side of things and building that knowledge and sharing that knowledge and driving insights, I also worked really closely with the telecoms practice. At that time, it was all about the World Wide Web was taking off.

Indeed. Sounds like a hundred years ago, right?

Yes it does. I know.

On the side of my desk, I learned how to code. I did, if I think back now, HTML and JavaScript I just had this passion for coding and building websites on the weekend. I look back and it was such an amazing opportunity to work with great people and to experience that high level of professionalism and dealing with the banking industry, but also understand about the web and tech and how that was really taking off.

I think just having that passion for that variety, I think it opened up opportunities for me and after being at McKinsey for five years, I then moved on to working in telecoms and I joined a company calledT-Mobile International, which is now part of the EE, and I was brought in to deliver a new capability onto mobile handsets. People talked about putting thisWorld Wide Web onto a mobile and having internet on the go.

The capability that I delivered was essentially to create a lock so that content was not accessible to children and explicit content wasn't available on handsets. It was just an amazing time to deliver something that was first to market and then unleash the potential of the internet on the handsets. There's huge commercial potential for telcos at that time, but doing the right thing by the customer and creating those guardrails, for me, it was just so important.

I then moved from T-Mobile to then working and doing something similar at Vodafone and working in a global organisation and trying to deploy that same capability across the global footprint. The interesting thing for me was, moving from consulting and extending out and working with a different range of stakeholders, so IT, partner integration team, third-parties, I was working with at that time Google and Skype and various really big organisations to get content onto the handsets.

For me, it was just a really amazing time to be at the forefront of this change. Although back then I wouldn't have considered myself to be a transformer, as you put it, Denis, I think that looking back, I had all the hallmarks there in place.

I think for the audience out there, we have had a few obviously transformers right across this series, but there are really some common themes and here it's clear that the passion, the curiosity, the belief and also doing things differently for a better outcome is all over what you have shared. Now at Lloyds, I guess that's a very well-established company, so maybe it was a bit different.

Yes, yes, absolutely. I kind of moved from telco. The reason I made the move was I'd actually lived out of a suitcase for eight years and by that time,Denis, I was married and I wanted to just spend some time at home. I decided togo back to my roots in banking and I was very fortunate to be offered a job atLloyds Banking Group, working in a small team that was looking at innovation, new proposition development, finding the next silver bullet, looking at the moves, the dial type, things that would really shake the banking and working--It was a team that was created by Paul Pester.

For me, it was a really, really exciting time to becoming back into banking, and a really pivotal time, because actually, at that point the regulator was working really closely with banks to really raise the risk agenda and be focused on putting the customer at the heart of what we were doing. My transition back into banking was a really, really interesting one andI learned so much just in terms of the discipline around banking and how you really put the customer at the heart of what you are doing.

For me, I started at Lloyds working on retail strategy, moving into customer strategy, customer segmentation and then kind of found my, what I'd like to think of as my real home which is business banking.I made a transition into product and at that time, business banking was, it wasn't really a thing. Business customers were at the lower end of commercial and the market was all around serving commercial customers and the one-to-one relationships.

Actually, for lower customers, you kind of had that standard proposition and when I leant over to business banking, it was just an amazing opportunity to take a blank piece of paper and think about, how can we change up this proposition? How can we simplify the proposition to make it better for customers, because it's just such a tricky area, business banking.Simplifying the product range, simplifying processes, simplifying pricing, but honestly, Denis, for me, the key thing about being in business banking atLloyds was the fact that I had the opportunity to not only lead the current account team, the deposits team, the loans and overdrafts team, the data team, the proposition teams-- I was able to do it all.

Suddenly you just take this product hat off and you don't think about the business customer in silos, you suddenly think of the business customers as a whole, and I just developed this affinity for all things business. It just suddenly clicks and you just realise that the pressures that small business owners face, the challenges that they face every day, you start to get the rhythm of how they run their businesses and when they do their banking.

For me, that really shaped the change that I wanted to drive, and actually, before I left Lloyds, I was running an agile transformation project looking at how we can transform business lending which for me is just a real pain spot and taking-- In some banks, processes can take months to access lending. To be able to truncate that process down to from months to weeks to days to hours to seconds, that's actually where you want to get to, that's the North star.

Actually, we'll get to now, the next stage, when you did the move to where you are now, but maybe just picking up on a couple of things you've mentioned which have also surfaced through other interviews. First, the parallel between all the people having experience in telco, in the heydays of telco which was really when internet was booming, etc. Mobile phone was coming into play, and banking.

Through my background, I realised that, actually, there's a lot of similarities through how those markets are being progressively disruptive. Starting with telco, but banking and finance for loans, a very, very similar pattern. Even though it's an entirely different market but there is pressure from the regulator, there is pressure from the consumer and there is, on the side, new competitors coming into the mix.

I have had a lot of discussions with senior executives, C-suite people in banking, financial services and asking me,"Where should we look at?" et cetera. Sometimes I have to tell them that, obviously they can look at their peers, they can look at the new challenger bank, but they need also to look at other industries and what they have been through. That will give them probably a good proxy view as to what's happening to their market. That's really interesting.

Also, the background around diversity of your experiences on the working product, et cetera, but also mostly the fact that the SME market in general, especially the business accounts market, has been underserved for many years, because usually banks concentrate on retail or the top end of the corporate world. That's where there is more margin, et cetera. It's time for this to change, I guess, which is now.

I know what you're doing at Metro Bank, but tell us about-- It's not an easy decision to move from a very well established, exciting stuff you were doing at Lloyds Bank moving to what is or could be characterised at the times really as the underdog within the high street banks, or challenger bank within the high street bank, Metro Bank. What made you click into joining Geo Metro Bank back in 2019, I think it was?

Absolutely. I joined in March 2019. Just to answer that question, I really got to say that I'm so fortunate to work with an amazing group of people and not only at Metro Bank from top-down. Everybody across the organisation really cares about customers and also really cares about each other, about colleagues, and doing the right thing.

When you hear things about Metro and you read Vernon's book and you read things that come out, things online, it's all about doing the right thing by the customer and the right thing by the colleagues so you can build a sustainable business. We talk about Metro being people-people banking, but just being really-- Sticking to that ethos has really helped us to drive out the right decisions and do the right things. I think that's what I really liked about Metro Bank.

It was the first bank, new high street bank in 100years with the ability to disrupt. What is there that's not exciting about that? I joined in March of 2019 and at that point we'd just secured funding from the BCR. Knowing what I knew about the business and banking market and knowing that I'm going to an organisation that has funding to really disrupt the market, I think for me was just really, really exciting.

Metro Bank has a full suite. It's a full-service bank and it has great products and services, but to be able to take that kind of store-based business and to really build up that digital arm for me was really exciting.

I think everything you said also about what you were doing and working at Lloyds probably put you in a great position to execute on that money, because yes, it was about building a new business account proposition, andMetro through BCR funding, but that is really no mean feat, building virtually a new banking service from scratch. How did you go about this, because that brings a lot of challenges across the technology, the cross-functional world?How did you go about this?

With time constraints, because BCR comes with commitments which are also looked in terms of the timing you have to deliver on that new proposition.

Absolutely. If I just unpick that, my role as head of business and commercial bank accounts is all about just getting the basics right and then building on that. Making sure that we have a great customer proposition, we have a great suite of products and services, we have great sales process. All of that is the core of my role. In terms of building a business banking capability from scratch, if you think about some of the new initiatives that we're launching, I think it comes down to three fundamental things that you need to have in place.

I think people are really important. The methodologies that we use, I think, are really, really important. What you're building just has to be sustainable and underpin everything that you're trying to do. If I go back to the sort of people aspect of it, I think having the right people in place is super important and lots of banks talk about it. I think the challenge is you want to bring people in. I think that's an easy thing to do.

I think at Metro Bank, what we're trying to do is to nurture talent from within because we have so many people who understand the bank and understand the values and it's about teaching them a different way of working to really drive that through. People that are absolutely critical, andI think for us, particularly within the C&I program, being clear about what we're trying to achieve and why we're trying to achieve that and the benefits that it drives for customers and for colleagues and for the business, I think, has been really, really powerful in winning hearts and minds.

I think when you're driving any transformational change, Denis, the number one important thing is really to capture the hearts and minds of the people that you work with, the people that you're doing this for. It's not just about engaging the executive committee to get the budgets and to remove blockers. I think it's all about building trust and engaging hearts and minds across the organisation.

Launching a new service, bringing innovation, that's all about change. Metro Bank was already established. Usually we see a lot of high street banks struggling a bit with this by bringing really an entirely new proposition to market because of the inertia, because of the natural inclination to statute or the skepticism that comes with new propositions. We see a lot of high streets banks resorting at the end to either acquisition or spinning off innovation into some sort of a satellite, into a Shoreditch place or whatever, because they're really struggling to do innovation from within.

How did you go about that? Even though probably less complex or big, for sure, than Lloyds or other High Street banks, but Metro Bank was established already. How did you manage that dynamics which comes with challenges?

I think the way that we manage change at Metro Bank is not about putting a bunch of people into an office and trying to make things happen. You don't drive engagement in that way. Being in a siloed environment, you don't get the right feedback, you don't get the right inputs. It's absolutely around making sure it's across our DNA, across the organisation.

When I think about the BCR work and the C&I program, we had a huge involvement from across the organisation. We've taken different ways of deploying things. You've got the agile methodology, you've got needs-based design, we've got-- Some elements of it was quite mandated in terms of what we needed to deliver. It was very much through really understanding what is the North star collectively? What is it that we're trying to deliver? Then you have pockets of groups working on different things, but collectively sharing what it is that we're building out.

Some of that was sharing a vision, some of that is building out a strategy, for example with lending. Some of that is building out prototypes and testing it under guerrilla brands and bringing that to life. At the heart of it, Denis, it's very much-- This comes back to the whole Eric Riespiece, but it's very much you build it, you test it, you measure it, you learn from it, you just keep repeating. For me, it's critical that you get feedback into the process and not just, how do customers react to things, but also across the organisation, how does this play out for colleagues?

How did you manage the sometimes tension, conflicts that arise from in-house versus buying or partnering with a third party, i.e., the traditional dilemma where we see a lot of functional business people sometimes having interesting discussions with either IT or maybe financial crime about, well, we've done that for many years, et cetera, we know how to do this. The doing ourselves or the buying or partnering for that piece of work so that we can go maybe faster, et cetera.

Usually, there's quite interesting debates happening around those themes. How did you manage that at Metro and building this new proposition and business service?

I think that's a great question, Denis. I think you don't anticipate some of the challenges that you're going to face at the outset. I think as you go through the process, you experience these, as you put it, some of these interesting challenges. It can sometimes be interesting tensions, and I think tensions are always good because it means that people are passionate about their viewpoint and their stance. They're trying to do the right thing for the business and for the customer and for the colleague.

I've not come across a situation where you're having a difference of opinion about something and it's not ever for the right reason, so I think that's always a good thing. To your point, you can have differences of opinion or you can have slight tensions. When you're working with third parties, when you're working internally, you can have different parts of the business that work in a different way, but it always comes back to the same thing. You've got to be clear in terms of what the end goal is. Once you have that view of the end goal, it helps you to smooth the pathway to achieving that goal.

We have challenges. When you're thinking about infrastructure, thinking about integrating new capabilities, new technology, we're thinking about financial crime changes that need to be implemented at the same time that you're trying to launch a new service. There will always be something that kind of comes in from left field. I guess the way that I personally manage those types of conversations, again, Denis, it comes down to people and your relationships with people.

Transformation is all about the relationships that you have with people, getting buy-in and all working towards same goal. When you think about third parties, Metro Bank is-- We're very selective in the partners that we use. We're very selective about the people that we have working in the organisation. We have a very a robust culture. We have very strong values.

One of our values is game change because it's a revolution, it's all about challenging the status quo. We're really particular about the people that we have working in the organisation. We're really particular about the third parties that we work with and it's all about values.If you have the same like-minded values, you will work in a similar way. You want to drive the right outcomes.

I think often when you come back to that values piece, it does help to transcend some of the challenges that we have. Denis, we have a huge level of change at Metro bank, a huge level of change and we're constantly having very tricky conversations. The more you build great relationships, the more trust that you inspire in people and the more respect that you have with the people that you're working with. It just becomes easier and easier to get across those issues that you have.

I think, yes, you touching on something also we've heard from others during this series. I guess digital has changed many things, but certainly one thing is the pace at which businesses have to execute right now, whether it is you are delivering a banking proposition, but also SMEs out there, et cetera. When you want to really run fast at pace, without trust, it's virtually impossible because there is a lot of no-look pass as we used to say. Constantly, every day. That concept of a no-look pass means that you have trust.

Clarity, I think also is extremely important there. Back to execution at pace in a very, very challenging environment. You guys launched that in 2020 in the middle of, let's face it, probably the worst pandemic ever that we all lived in, because the prior one was back in the 1920s, Spanish flu, et cetera. Nobody was prepared.You must have had some really hard decisions to make probably, right?Reflecting on some of the hard decisions you had to make, you, Kiran or as a group or as a leadership team there, is there anything interesting to share there with the audience?

Yes, you're completely right. In the pandemic we've had a number of hard decisions to make in terms of how we're able to work together and deliver things at pace and what's the right thing to deploy at the right time. It has been a really, really tricky year. I think one of the things, as you talked about, BAO, which for us is this amazing capability that we stepped up in 2020and working so closely with DueDil. It was the ability for us to have this new15-minute onboarding journey. We launched this in the latter part of the year.

It just went great guns-- It was the much-needed new channel that we really needed, particularly in the pandemic. The interesting thing for us actually, Denis, was that we launched BAO at the same time that the bounce-back loan scheme was also live. Really interesting. We just saw so much demand into the bank that came through. From a personal perspective, it's really rewarding to know that you're a bank that's open and you're able to service the needs of customers.

Clearly there's a demand there. We were open, I think for nearly a month and a half, two months, and suddenly we're just overwhelmed with volume that came into the bank in terms of customers wanting a bank account and then wanting a bounce-back loan. We had to make as a business, a really, really tough decision to stop opening new business current accounts.

I am clearly, my role is to deal with bank accounts. So that was a very, very tough decision to take my product hat off and to say, right, we've got to stop opening accounts, because actually, what we found, because we are a people-people business and we are a people-led organisation, our operational teams had built up huge backlogs.

They have this lightening quick ability to access lending, which is all the right things that we should be doing to disrupt the market, but actually in the backend, our operational teams built up these huge backlogs that they then had to work through and we had to work through that in a timely way. We had to make the very difficult decision to stop our account-opening process. To make that decision, it's not just a case of just switching off. It is very much data driven. We can switch it off but with a plan to then switch it back on again, which we have done this week.

Apparently, yes. Congratulations for that. It's really great to see the BAO back here, back online. I think it was this Monday that you guys reopened?

Yes, that's right.

I picked up on the 15-minutes digital journey, almost straight-through processing for opening the account. This is a fantastic measure of the success of these initiatives. I look forward to hearing more on that. Some of the members also that I'm sure you will be able or Metro Bank will be able to share down the road.

Yes, absolutely. Just in terms of the 15 minutes, you mentioned earlier about us working with DueDil, but for the customer to be able to come in, to be able to input the minimal details with the DueDil capability that we have and to pull that information from Companies House and all the other capabilities that we have with yourselves and another provider, helping with the KYB. That just expedites a lot of the process that actually customers would normally have to do elsewhere with other banks, but having this speedy 15-minute journey just makes it really simple for customers to onboard with us at a time that's easy for them.

It's hassle free banking for businesses. Kiran, we're coming up on time. Is there maybe a view you can share about fast forward in five years, how do you feel about business banking is going to look like?

I think fundamentally the core needs of business customers--Everything's changing as a result of COVID. Everything is expediting as a result of COVID, but core business needs are not going to change. Business owners want to focus on running their business and they want banking and their finances just to be easy and simple to take care of. As the banking industry, we need to continue to do that and to proactively offer a full range of products and services and functionality to customers to enable them to do that.I think offering where data's going, offering personalised, tailored propositions is absolutely the way to go, but we'll only be able to do that if we fundamentally change the way that we're working. I know across the banking industry, we are taking steps to do that. Five years' time, we will have made the shift that we have done in the last 10 years. We'll have more than made that shift in the next five years. I think really exciting times.

I like the giving time back to the entrepreneurs and the business owners so that, again, they don't have to spend too much time sorting out process with their banking, et cetera. And just maybe spend the right time with the relationship managers, et cetera, on value time about how the bank can have done better, et cetera. It's been really, really super exciting to listen to you, Kiran. In all the last 30 minutes, there is really a lot I'm sure the audience can pick up on transforming banking, working agile, working cross-functional, having to juggle a lot of different trajectories, but also, I very much like the, you've got to start accepting that you can not anticipate everything that's going to happen along the way. Like a pandemic, like BBLS, et cetera. Right scheme, skewing a bit the BAO launch, et cetera, because if you start thinking too much about everything that can happen, you just don't do anything at the end of the day. You don't even start.

Yes, that's right.

It's been great having you. Thank you so much for your time and the trust of Metro Bank into partnering with us at DueDil and have a great rest of the day. Great Thursday, Kiran, and I will be in touch again, and thank you all for that have attended this and streamed this session today. Thank you.

Thank you.

Metro Bank is one of many companies disrupting the financial market with the help of FinTech such as DueDil.  Our KYB For Life platform is available by API, Web App or native interface, making it easy for us to deliver up-to-date intelligence that can transform the way our partners work with their customers. Learn more about DueDil to find out how we can transform your business lifecycle.

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