Charlie Conchie interviews the biggest movers and shakers in tech, fintech and financial services. This week, it’s former Barclays boss and 10x Banking founder Antony Jenkins.
Until 2015, Antony Jenkins had something like the model banking CV.
A first job at Barclays, then on to Citigroup, a stint in New York, then back to Barclays and catapulted into bossclass to head up its retail banking unit.
It was in the embers of the global financial crisis in 2012, however, that his career began to take a turn. Barclays then-chief Bob Diamond was abruptly ousted over the Libor-rigging scandal and the bank was slapped with a total of £290m fines on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Oxford-educated and Blackburn-born Jenkins was called into the top job and set about fighting fires and cleaning up the culture at the UK’s biggest retail lender, even installing blocks in its Canary Wharf lobby with the values he wanted to drill into employees: respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship.
Three years later though, he too was abruptly sacked in a disagreement over the pace of cost-cutting and the future of the investment bank. Looking back now as founder and chief of fintech firm 10x Banking, he’s keen to draw a line under his “institutionalised” past life.
“I think of it as two separate careers,” he tells City A.M. in an interview. “One was a big bank career, two is as an entrepreneur in the technology space. And that’s where I am today.”
Jenkins isn’t keen to relitigate the terms of his departure – “I think I’m going to just pass on that question” – but even he concedes his new life draws fundamentally on the trials and tribulations of a decades-long career at the top of the world’s banking behemoths.
You do get this sense of liberty and of course that can be quite unsettling
10x was launched in 2016 in something like the heyday of the UK’s fintech scene, just after David Cameron and George Osborne had set about trumpeting London as the global hub for the industry for the previous three years.
The firm sells software to banks and helps them drag their digital systems into the 21st century. But Jenkins traces its roots all the way back to the emergence of technology in banking – or lack of – some 30 years earlier.
“I had already moved from Barclays to Citi in the late 80s and had worked for them in London for a couple of years before I went to New York, but I found the culture [in New York] to be much more ambitious, and much more focused on, frankly, how technology could serve customers better,” he says.
“I remember Barclays had just installed email. And of course, they gave it to the very senior people who didn’t know what to do with it. So all of their assistants were basically retyping their emails.”
But even with a “blank sheet of paper” after leaving the bank, starting a business is very different to running one, he adds.
“You do get this sense of liberty and of course that can be quite unsettling,” he says. “You’ve always had this anchor in your life, and then it’s not there anymore.”
Looking back at 2015, it could be argued Jenkins scarpered at the right time.
The UK’s so-called neobanks have been snapping up ever more market share off the stalwarts in the past decade, with penetration reaching 32.9 per cent this year and forecast to top 40 per cent by 2027, according to figures from Statista.
Given their sluggish track record on technology, Jenkins says he’s “not at all surprised” that retail banking stalwarts like Barclays have been caught off guard by the insurgents over the past decade.
“If you look at the history of incumbency, incumbents are usually very slow to adopt new technologies. Think about a Blockbuster, think about a Kodak, think about a Nokia,” he says.
“They had access to the next generation of technology, but because of organisational resistance, they failed to adopt it fast enough. That’s just human nature, we tend to cling to the familiar.”
Among Jenkins biggest successes has been another move likely to irk his former colleagues – facilitating the entry of JP Morgan’s retail arm Chase into the UK, one of the few successful forays into retail banking by a Wall Street giant.
At a more structural level, the retail lenders in the UK are facing threats. Sentiment has soured against the UK’s high street names after a failure to pass on the benefits of aggressive rate hikes in the UK, fuelling a volley of barbs from regulators and politicians and even talks of windfall taxes.
Jenkins is more diplomatic, however. There are now just more rates to compare for savers and more alternatives in the shop window – undoubtedly a good thing, he says.
“Technology has made it much easier to open a new account. It’s made it much easier to move your money to a new account.
“And so the friction in the system has reduced and therefore people are shopping around more when they find a great rate for their money.”
Instead Jenkins is more concerned about the free-flow of talent to the fintech sector since the UK left the EU. Countless fintech firms have lamented the disruption to incoming foreign talent coming to work in the UK from the continent.
His advice? Just think globally.
“There’s been much discussion about the ability to bring talent into this country, visa requirements and so on. But frankly, there are also ways around that – we can now employ people internationally. We have an office in Sydney, for example.”
He says he employs the same vein of thinking when raising money. In a new fundraise on Friday, 10x announced a fresh injection from existing US investors Blackrock and JP Morgan.
“It didn’t particularly bother me that we weren’t able to raise capital from UK entities,” he adds. “But perhaps it is a bit instructive that some of my biggest investors are all international.”
London doesn’t appear to be winning the steadfast commitment of Jenkins’ banking venture anytime soon. The travails of London’s public markets are well covered and, having run one of the UK’s largest listed companies in Barclays, a return to the London Stock Exchange does not appear to be on the agenda.
“It’s [down to] where the best place is to grow a business like ours? At some point, the public markets may well make sense. The first decision is, is the public market the best place to grow the company, then where would you grow it?”
Given Jenkins’ desire to separate his former life from his new one, that may mean another look elsewhere.