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An interview with Will Sorby: ‘Banking need not be complex or expensive, and we need to collectively take up that challenge as an industry’

Theo Osborn | 13:25 Friday 2nd August 2019

Earlier this year, N26 appointed Will Sorby as its UK general manager to lead its expansion into the UK market.

In an interview with Specialist Banking, Will talks about the mobile bank’s progress in the country and its impending full launch in the USA.

It’s been around nine months since your beta launch in the UK. What’s the progress been like so far?

Progress has been great; we’ve been overwhelmed with the response so far. Our 200,000th UK customer joined us in April, and we have over 1,000 new customers joining us every day. 

In terms of the product, we’ve already launched our premium ‘metal’ tier, added Apple Pay and Google Pay, introduced MoneyBeam for instant payments to other N26 customers, and recently launched ‘You’ — our new premium account focused around personalisation.  

But we’re still only at the beginning of realising the experience that we want to bring to our UK customers. Over the next six to 12 months, our customers will start to see some new features and benefits that no one else is currently offering.  

You recently announced your beta launch in the USA. Are there any lessons that you’ve learnt in the UK that could be implemented into this new venture?

Absolutely. There are many technical learnings in terms of our infrastructure and back-end operations, but the biggest thing that we learned upon coming to the UK (which will also be important in the US) is how we need to talk to customers in each new market. 

We have many touchpoints with customers either before or after they join us — across emails, customer service chats, account opening processes and more. And it’s critical that we align all of these ‘moments’ so we address a customer in the UK in the way they expect to be treated. In other words — it’s more than just translation.

Mobile banking is set to overtake branch use by 2021, according to recent research. Has the banking industry fully adapted to embrace technology or is there still a long way to go?

Mobile-only banking has increased in popularity as it offers customers control of their money, when and wherever they want. Mobile payments are now part of everyday life for many people and neobanks have been able to deliver innovative features that have not been available to customers before. 

I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that big banks are not embracing technology, it’s just a question of how swiftly they are able to adapt and innovate. The big banks are playing catch up and their scale makes it harder for them to adapt to the pace of change that the industry is currently experiencing. By the time a big bank introduces a feature we already have today, neobanks will be releasing the next new thing. 

If you could change one thing about the banking industry, what would it be?

The banking industry has for many years been characterised by customer inertia, driven by the complexities involved in changing bank accounts and the opacity of fee structures. 

The rise of neobanks, including N26, has broken down these barriers to switching accounts, but most customers still do not have a clear understanding of the costs involved with staying with their current bank. 

Therefore, the main thing that I would change about the banking industry today is to make it more open, so banks can talk to their customers in an honest and frank way. Banking need not be complex or expensive, and we need to collectively take up that challenge as an industry, so we change the perception of what ‘great’ looks like for banking services.  

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the banking industry?

For anyone looking to get into the industry, I would simply say to get out there and do it. Right now, the rise of ‘fintech’ is creating many new jobs in many organisations; the scope of opportunity has never been wider. 

However, as with any career move, be focused about what it is that you want to get out of your job. What is it that motivates you and makes you excited to get up and go to work each day? Once you understand that, go out and find the right company and role that will make you happy. The banking industry is thriving now because fintech has attracted to many talented and enthusiastic people who want to make a difference. So, if that applies to you, then come and help us change the industry.

How did you get into banking?

Long before joining N26, I had a career in investment banking, but I really only got into retail banking (or fintech) by joining N26. Up until earlier this year, I had been living in Belgium for several years where I had all the frustrations that our customers typically face with big banks — and so I became a very happy N26 customer.

My entry into the industry was really based around seeing an amazing opportunity to put this product into the hands of as many people as possible back in the UK. 

If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?

Following on from my answer above: my motivation to join N26 was about leading a business that is making a positive change in its industry and delivering a great product to happy customers.

It so happens that right now I’m doing this in finance, but if I wasn’t in this job, I would be doing exactly the same thing in another industry.

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