Resplendent in an expensive-looking waistcoat and shirt combination, Antony Jenkins looks very much the model of a successful banker.
I only mention that because the fintech entrepreneurs I tend to speak to are more likely to be sporting quarter zip jumpers or t-shirts under jackets, rather than the more formal attire beloved of banking executives. But Jenkins has a foot in both worlds. Having spent three years as CEO of Barclays Plc, he is now in the driving seat at financial technology company, 10x.
Created to provide (mainly) incumbent banks to match the agility and customer-friendliness of tech-driven challengers, 10 X is part of the somewhat under-reported corner of the fintech marketplace that provides solutions to institutions rather than consumer-facing brands. Jenkins describes 10X as business-to-business-to-consumer.
When I spoke to him via Zoom I was keen to find out about the realities of moving from a corporate job to the less certain life of an entrepreneur.
Jenkins’ tenure as CEO of Barclays was relatively short – three years between 2012 and 2015, to be precise. During that time, he oversaw a period of restructuring. His departure in was – according to contemporary reporting – down to a dispute with the board over the pace and manner of the changes.
Even so, it’s usually not difficult for corporate executives to find high-level roles within their industries and Jenkins had a long career in banking that included time at Citigroup and various roles at Barclays itself. So why the jump to entrepreneurial life?
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“I had a good run in corporate life, but I suppose I always had entrepreneurial yearnings,” he said.
Perhaps more importantly, his experience suggested to him that incumbents in the banking sector had a problem in need of a solution. They were relatively sluggish when it came to serving customers and launching new products.
“In my career, I’ve had to launch a lot of products,” he says. “It can take up to seven or eight months.”
In contrast, he says that 10x – which is essentially a banking as a service platform – can enable banks to reduce that period to weeks, partly by bringing together all the necessary data and making it available in real time. In this way, his aim is to enable major banks – often hampered by legacy IT systems – to compete with challengers.
This, he says, is crucial, not just because “neo” banks are snapping at the heels of the longer established rivals but also because big tech companies are also muscling in on the financial services market.
But why would banks turn to fintechs? They aren’t short of money and they won’t necessarily struggle to attract digital talent – they can pay the wages, after all – so why should they buy in technology from outside? Indeed, why should they look to fintech for answers.
“Banks are our competitors,” Jenkins acknowledges. “And I see many that are doing it for themselves. But it is difficult for incumbents to reform themselves.”
Equally, you could argue that it is challenging for fintech outsiders to gain a foothold in the B2B or B2B2C markets. The customer-facing fintechs can capitalize on the frustration of consumers and build highly focused services without the constraints of legacy technology. B2B players are pitching products and services into the heart of an industry that has its own way of doing things.
That’s where people from a banking background have a potential advantage. They know the industry and its problems. At the same time they can focus on developing solutions. “We have done nothing but work on this for the last seven years,” says Jenkins.
A corporate background also helps when it comes to funding. Jenkins was in the happy position of being able to put £1 million of his own money into 10x before seeking funding. To date, from Series A through to C, it has raised around £252 million.
A Switch Of Mindset?
But running a startup morphing into a scaleup does perhaps require a different mindset. There aren’t the same safety nets as you might find in corporate life. “There is more accountability,” he says. “You know it is down to your team and you to make it work. The highs are higher and lows are lower.”
At the same time, there is a sense of freedom. “You feel very unconstrained,” he adds.
To date 10x has signed up six customers, including JP Morgan Chase, the Nationwide Building Society and Westpac. The near term goal is to serve around 20 institutions by 2025 -mainly in tiers 1, 2 and 3 of the banking market. Jenkins sees that as a realistic target. “By that time we will be cash positive.”
Fintech is still the poster child for the UK tech ecosystem but while challenger banks and financial providers continue to grab headlines the industry itself is seeking new ways to compete. That opens possibilities for b2b solutions that are experienced but not seen by consumers. An alternative career for bankers, perhaps.