I recently met up with Stewart Bromley, Chief Operating Officer of Atom Bank. I already admired Atom Bank for their ambition to shake up the banking industry. By the time I left their offices in Durham I wanted to work with them, be their customer and invest in them (if only I had a spare few £million!).
Stewart talked to me about being a truly values led bank, the challenges they face and their vision for the future.
Bee Heller: You’ve been with Atom Bank since it’s conception 3 years ago, what’s that experience been like?
Stewart Bromley: It’s been the most stressful and fun 3 years of my life. It’s exciting to be part of something pioneering. We’re the first solely digital bank to have been given a banking license and to start to trade. When we started on this journey three years ago, we had no idea what the road map looked like. Our resilience and ability to bounce back has been tested beyond anything we could have anticipated but that has fuelled our pride in reaching the point we’re at today and gives us enormous confidence in our future.
BH: What sets Atom Bank apart from its competition?
SB: Our cost base is tiny in comparison to any existing bank and the customer experience we deliver is exceptional. We’re also able to produce new features rapidly. Where major banks take 18 months to take a new digital product to market, we’re able to deliver in weeks.
BH: What are your current biggest challenges?
SB: We have been successful in raising the capital we need to date and have raised more than all the other challengers put together. However, consumer demand for our products is even greater… When we turned our mortgages on we were totally inundated. We have built a highly scalable system, and our growth is simply constrained by capital. We’re also constrained by our capacity (and slightly by capability) to deliver our backlog of ideas. The number of things we want to do far outstrips our immediately available capacity.
BH: How have you nurtured the culture at Atom?
SB: From the very beginning we defined a value system that shapes everything we do. We based this value system on our target customer group – building it around the psychological cravings of millennials. We hire for these values, manage performance based on these values and design our customer experience around these values.
Take performance management as an example…at Atom, this is termed “My Adventure” where individuals keep a scrap book of their Atom journey. This forms the starting point for their conversations with their coaches (we call all line managers coaches). We care about both what people have done and how they’ve done it and these hold equal weight. Everyone gets two weeks a year for their personal development and training. All employees get £250 a year to spend on a passion or something new they want to learn e.g. learning a language, musical instrument, dance lessons etc. We talk about work/life integration rather than work/life balance as this is what our people tell us they want – the ability to bring home into work and vice versa. And finally, in a big departure from banking norms, we offer no cash bonuses. We give equity bonuses instead as we believe this encourages behaviours that are in the long term best interest of Atom.
BH: Tell me about Atom Bank’s values…
SB: We have six guiding values. They are…
Respectful. For us this is not about treating other people as you wish to be treated but recognising that everyone’s an individual. We have a very diverse team but inclusive culture. We celebrate people’s differences. This value is reflected in our product that allows customers to have a personalised brand for their app.
Pioneering. We have huge freedom internally for people to experiment with new ideas. We’ve already registered six patents as a bank.
Courageous. We believe in standing up for what’s right. We’re open and transparent about everything we do. We have a tuck shop in the office that is managed by everyone. People contribute and take whatever they want leaving cash or supply top ups or ‘IOUs’! Every month/6 weeks we have an ‘all hands’ company meeting where we share everything that’s going on, including disclosing all our finances. Everyone gets involved in the discussion. This transparency flows through to customers with no hidden prices or surprises.
Energetic. We work at pace. There’s an immediacy to everything we do. Despite having 300 employees now, we still have almost no bureaucracy. This allows people throughout the business to make big decisions everyday.
Sharing. This is our way of saying collaboration. For us sharing is important as it encourages people to both give and take when it comes to working with other people. People are generous with their expertise and people aren’t afraid to ask for help.
Joyful. In our view banking should be fun and exciting. People should enjoy working here. We’re not happy-clappy – working at Atom Bank can be like working in a big pressure pot. We have tears everyday but it’s because people really care. When we do get tears, we have big hugs and everyone supports each other. We regularly celebrate our achievements and give away prizes to employees. These prizes can be swanky weekend breaks but we’ve also given away things like a year’s supply of loo roll – a useful and not invaluable prize but also a sign of the fact that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we like to have fun!
BH: What does the future hold for Atom Bank?
SB: Our mission is to change banking for good. We’ve already influenced the use of biometrics in banking and big banks are copying our mortgage pricing. For a small player we’re really proud of the influence we’ve already had on some banking practices and we’re looking forward to seeing our influence grow.
Our vision is to be the first telepathic bank. In our view for banking to be useful it has to be predictive. We want to allow people to get more from their money and to pay less for borrowing it. So if a customer tells us how much they’d like to save and by when, we’ll nudge them to make decisions that support their financial goals. For example, if they’re in Starbucks about to buy a coffee, we’ll remind them how much they’ve spent on coffee that month and how much of their saving target they’ve reached so far.
Looking even further ahead, already in a lab today people can control computers via brain waves (admittedly while wearing a funny brain scan cap that’s hooked up to a computer). We think this technology will transform the way consumers interact with digital products in the next 10 – 15 years. We want to the bank that’s at the forefront of using this technology.
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