The incumbent advantage:
Can (digital) challenger banks really disrupt the Old Order?

Held on Wednesday, January 20, 2016

With support from Kemp Little


  • Hakim Mendjeli (independent consultant)

  • Tom Blomfield (CEO, Mondo Bank)

  • Ankit Chhajer (digital lead for customer experience and sales innovation, RBS)

  • Tim France-Massey (director of digitisation, Wipro Digital)

  • Chris Hill (partner, Kemp Little)



There is a school of thought (which tends to be heavily represented at our FinTech meetings) that says new start-up digital-only banks will beat the pants off traditional bricks-and-mortar banks, because they don’t have legacy problems, they are not saddled with branch networks they don’t need, they are staffed with tech savvy kids who can relate to customers -and because young customers really, really, want to bank on their iPhones. There is another school of thought that says Hold On: incumbent banks are not stupid, they understand technology just as well as their younger competitors – and they have the inestimable advantage of actually having a customer base over which they can spread the (not inconsiderable) cost of going digital.

I (sort of) incline to the latter view – though I would love to be proven wrong, since there is little doubt that the UK banking scene could do with a bomb up its bum. Whatever, it is a very lively debate, with profound consequences for the future shape of the financial services sector.

We are, therefore, delighted to have been able to put together a panel to discuss whether ‘disrupters’ really will disrupt, whether ‘digital-only’ banks will be able to crack the mass market, and whether the established High St. banks will be able to leverage their networks, experience and knowledge of their customers to keep the interlopers out:

  • Hakim Mendjeli is a mild sceptic about present levels of innovation in digital banking. He led mobile strategy and product at LBG, and was in charge of digital propositions and strategy for SMEs at RBS. He is currently involved with Startupbootcamp, Diune, and French Digital (a network for French tech professionals). He recently wrote a thought-provoking blog post on the subject:  

“Judging challenger banks by what they promise to offer and solely on publicly available information, none, bar one, promises anything that qualifies as being disruptive proposition-wise. None seem to plan to offer anything truly different from what existing banks provide.”

  • Tom Blomfield is CEO at Mondo Bank – and has, therefore, put his money where his mouth is, building “the UK’s first smart bank”. As Mondo’s FAQs say, “We are building a bank for people who live their lives on their smartphones” – who want to get things done “in a click”, and who don’t see the need for branches or cheque books.
  • Ankit Chhajer is the digital lead for ‘customer experience and sales innovation’ at RBS. Since joining the bank in 2008, he has served in various product, marketing and digital development roles.
  • Tim France-Massey is director of digitisation at Wipro Digital. He was formerly head of digital and data at Barclays Wealth, and before that head of mobile banking at RBS, where he launched the UK’s first iPhone mobile banking app.

  • Chris Hill is a partner in Kemp Little’s commercial technology team, with a particular focus on financial services. Innovation in digital banking increasingly involves technology outsourcing and cloud-based services, two areas where Chris is devoting much of his attention.

I hope that Hakim will raise the problems that a digital-only bank will face – and that Tom, Tim and Chris will provide the answers. If we are to move the UK banking sector into the 21st century – using available technology to the max – we have to find a way to make the digital offering compelling in a way that, to date, it hasn’t been.