In conversation with 11:FS Chairman Shaun Meadows

 David M. Brear photo
David M. Brear Co-Founder & CEO, 11:FS
5min read

I sat down with our new Chairman, and my long time mentor, Shaun Meadows to chat innovation, being different and why culture is vital for future success.

We’ve known each other for a long time. I remember I was about 300 levels below you at Aviva and presenting to you about digital strategy etc. What are your thoughts on where we’re at as an industry?

Can I say 1% finished?!

I mean, sure...we use that phrase to make people think about where we’re at...

Absolutely. You can be digitised in some aspects, and perhaps truly digital in how you interact with customers on a journey. But that’s not ‘digital’ as I view it, because most banks and insurers are nowhere near what is technologically possible. And more importantly, not even close to delivering experiences that are now second nature to customers in their day-to-day lives. You can use your phone for so much now - translate that to your banking or insurance experiences and they are miles apart.

In reality people have only created digital processes for the ‘simple’ bits. So, sure, you can buy something with less friction but there’s still a whole host of products where banks and insurers need a lot of help to get to where consumers needs are. Mortgages being a prime example.

It’s only when those processes are approaching ‘Amazon-like’, by which I mean I’m on the sofa on a Sunday night and want it and can get it the next day that I feel that we have seen progress.

Right. To me, the next 3-5 years feels like a tipping point for shaping the next phase of the industry. Which is super exciting for 11:FS but also terrifying.

I get that. So much of the industry is still really antiquated.

I do question how long we say ‘digital’ for the way we’re looking to transform how firms interact with their customers. To get some of the industry out of the mindset of digital somehow being this ‘thing’ in the near future. It’s here. It’s real. Also, digital mindset seems to be about creating a mobile app or a better website. It is so much more than that; it needs to be about new ways of thinking.

You can use your phone for so much now - translate that to your banking or insurance experiences and they are miles apart

A slick UX is one thing but if the heart of the organisation is a 30 year old system, well that’s only getting you so far and I think we’re seeing that now. It’s why I look at what Leda and team are doing with 11:FS Foundry and can’t help but be excited by what that could mean for banks.

And it’ll be the firms that really nail those propositions that will win.

That is true. But to really affect change they first need to recognise it. Those that do - and that could be an incumbent as much as a challenger - will be the ones that are positioned to really lead in the future.

We also have to face the awkward reality that not every bank or fintech will survive. Incumbents may face slow, painful slide into irrelevance, and equally, I can’t see every challenger service making it past that window, either.

I’m an HSBC customer, because I lived all over the world and at the time it was the best account for my needs. But I'm also a Monzo customer, a Starling customer, a Revolut customer. I might open an Atom account for some savings.

But at some point, I think I will need to rationalise. For a lot of it, I was an early adopter of those services, I was curious how they worked, what their value proposition was. But now there’s a lot of overlap in what they do and in the wider market a lot of commoditisation, to the point where I don’t need three services that all do the same thing, in pretty much the same way.

That commodity approach has plagued consulting as much as the banks. It was one thing that drove me to create 11:FS...

Well, for 11:FS as an organisation and also the propositions we take to market, it means all of our thinking needs to come from customers and how to make their journeys and lives easier. Traditional banks and consultancies are too absorbed in the ‘lets create a new bank’ or ‘we should focus on the future of X’’s missing the point that’s not how consumers think in terms of how we spend, why we spend, how we could do with some advice on how to save.

And look...I get why, if you have three thousand branches, you want to think about the way consumers interact with them. But if you start from a different place you think about it differently - do they need a physical place they need to go to, you then can build it as part of the proposition but it shouldn't be the starting point you work backwards from.

As the market matures, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. I genuinely think our approach helps us on that.

That’s why I really like the ethos you’ve created at 11:FS and the way that is being spread throughout the organisation. It’s driven from a different place, a different mindset. It’s not something to can just plug in, it's authenticity that comes from the vision and determination to do things differently. And not for the sake of being different but out of a belief that there is a better way to approach the problem.

A slick UX is one thing but if the heart of the organisation is a 30 year old system, well that’s only getting you so far

I think the community aspect is vital; how that’s been built and nurtured through the podcasts, events, blogs and so on. We talk about things in completely different ways, but we’re part of the conversation, we’re not trying to control the narrative.

One thing you and I have thought about, at length, is the role of culture. What does that mean to you?

Culture is everything. Everything.

It’s only going to become more important. Consumers have a huge amount of choice when it comes to banking services, banks have a huge choice in suppliers. We have to focus on what makes us different, better and why.

We have to develop our language and need to keep ahead of it, but not fall into the buzzword bingo traps. Others will inevitably evolve and catch up, and so we have to keep ourselves honest and ensure we don’t become ‘the norm’. That’s just so exciting to me about seeing that process unfold and how it manifests itself to the market.

I’ve always been mindful about how we maintain it as we scale and not losing the thing that I think is a major pull.

David you’ve heard a lot of my little mantras before - 'organisations are shadows of their leaders’ - so how you behave, how I behave, how anyone here behaves will seep in. It’s reflected in the way we do things. Maintaining that is central to everything. It drives people, product design, recruiting. It permeates everything, everywhere.

11:FS has fantastic brand permission to do things differently and we have to be mindful of maintaining that. I think the critical element will be keeping the tone of voice, the narrative and style but ensuring it is honed, as the company grows, and evolves for different markets, audiences. Being part of that and, still wearing my ‘marketing hat’ is hugely exciting to me.

But scaling the business, any business, is a balancing act...

That’s why you have to stay true to your values. I see that as central to my role as Chairman, to be that person who says “are you sure about that” or “what about X as an option?” to keep everyone honest.

11:FS has fantastic brand permission and we have to be mindful of maintaining that

You see too many businesses scale or sell out and they lose the thing that made them special, the thing that made people want to work with them.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at culture, cultural transformation and the biggest challenge for us is, we’ll work best with people who get us, who align to our vision and can see that our culture is vital to project success.

We do proudly say ‘we’re not normal’...

Absolutely. The challenge in that is that there are people who don’t or won’t get it. There will be times when it’s ‘too much’ for some people that what we’re suggesting as the future model is the polar opposite of where they are, and they will reject our notions.

We need to recognise that and accept it...because I believe they will eventually have to come around. We’re outsiders, challengers. People come to 11:FS because they’re drawn to it. Other suppliers are formulaic and I don’t think it will be in the next few years because there are new ways of working, new types of thinking, which will always keep 11:FS ahead.

The other thing is because we don’t come with an incumbent mindset things are more efficient. It’s a better, smarter way of working.

Right. I definitely see that. Agile here means the mindset to do things differently and going back to that small team sport analogy.

Problem is, you hear ‘agile’ and thinking goes down a different path - this isn’t about a delivery methodology or keeping up with the latest fad. It’s a mentality not a methodology.

And that goes back to the question of culture and mindset. Our client facing people as we scale and the way we describe things need to ensure that our language and those notions are maintained and developed.

We don’t say ‘digital transformation’ and then just offer offshoring operations to reduce overheads. We mean fundamentally changing things - not just technology, not just culture, not just service design, not just brand. All of it.

There’s a lot going on...Foundry launching to market, expansion plans and adding more people in to make it all happen. How do you think about scaling a business?

It goes back to one of my previous points. Keeping the tone of voice. Focussing on who you hire, where you look for that talent, how you nurture the people you have. Remembering what got you where you are today and not lose those elements that set us apart. It’s not any one single ‘thing’, it’s all of them in combination.

Alright then. Let’s do this!

To hear Shaun's thoughts on investment in insurtech and where the industry is headed, take a listen to Insurtech Insider Episode 46.

 David M. Brear
About the author

David M. Brear

David is the CEO of 11:FS and since his dream of being a sportsperson was crushed (along with the ligaments in his knee!) and he had to get a proper job. He has worked in pretty much every angle of the financial services industry but never lost that competitive desire to win.