Jason Oakley, CEO & Founder – Recognise Bank
Article by Keerat Rai
Interview by Ninder Johal
Born in Coseley to an entrepreneurial father, Jason Oakley was instilled from a young age with a sense of creating a level of independence and creating something from nothing.
In a career spanning 35 years there is not much Jason doesn’t know about the banking industry, having worked at the likes of RBS, NatWest and Close Brothers. As well as playing a key role in the formation of Metro Bank, where he ran the commercial and mortgage lending book.
His latest venture has seen him embarking on the huge task of setting up his own bank which specialises in services for UK SMEs. Although this may seem a daunting process at first its clear from a conversation with Jason that he has a real passion for customer eccentricity and the vital role SMEs have in our economy.
In his own words “SMEs for me are so energising, I have never forgotten how critically important they are for the functioning of our economy”.
Let’s go back in history, what part of your journey led you to the decision of you setting up your own bank?
“I started in Banking after my A levels at 18 but even then I knew that just being at a bank was not going to be enough. I always felt I wanted to create things and I love building businesses from scratch”.
In quite a candid moment, Jason explains how the banking industry since 2010 has seen 3 major changes:
1. Bankers have become vilified
2. The banking exams and standards that were set have degraded.
3. The local bank managers relationships with the community and new clients have disappeared.
“A number of traditional big banks now divert customers into call centres, with no contact, continuity or creativity. Frankly I felt compelled that we had to come up with a different way of doing it. I passionately believe that this new bank is about recognising these SMEs and the critical role they play in our economy”.
With the emergence of Fintech and the more remote way of banking available, where does your bank fit it?
“In our research we spoke to almost 500 SMEs and 72% of them said that at some point they do need a face to face relationship. Our technology platform is the most advanced for SME banking in the UK and is what we call ‘Digitally Enabled Relationship Banking’
I take the best from Fintech and all the benefits from cutting edge technology and synthesise it with relationship banking. That means a client may prefer to only use the platform and not touch anyone directly, which is fine but everyone will have the option of a relationship manager that will meet and get to know their business, so there is a degree of intimacy and continuity”.
How are you going to grow this brand?
“The power of social media and online marketing are key but we haven’t at this stage spent any significant sums on marketing. Despite this, we have had over £400 million of inquiries so the demand is phenomenal.
The size of this market is worth £167 Billion and 75% of that is still with the big 5 banks. Currently most SMEs have such low expectations of their bank that our job is really to ensure they know that there is a better alternative”.
With the banks retreating from the high street, how will people be able to find you?
“We have distribution outlets but they are not high street outlets, in truth I can’t think of the last time I walked into a bank branch. The most effective way to build relationships with SMEs is to go and see them yourself, they are often proud to take you around their business and show you what they’ve achieved.
Our main hub is in London, we also have hubs in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds with plans to expand to Bristol, Newcastle and Milton Keynes. The critical rule we have set for ourselves is that for each particular hub we will only trade with businesses in a 40 mile radius”.
Jason states his reason for this is, once again, reinforcing the importance of his clients, maintaining close proximity and being able to build relationships.
What’s it been like trying to start up a bank in a pandemic?
“Currently we have 53 people on our team and my staff didn’t burn out during the pandemic.
Our productivity shot up with people working very long hours but we put a lot of emphasis on over-communication, one to ones and tolerance”.
Whilst ‘Tolerance’ seemed an interesting term to use when discussing the pandemic, what Jason meant by this was creating a work environment where people can feel a bit more relaxed and informal. Whether that involves allowing staff to choose more flexible work hours or providing support for those who have children and are in need of homeschooling, the idea was generate a level of trust and confidence amongst his team.
As Jason states “I’m a massive fan of ‘Ask for forgiveness not permission’ – give people license to be the best they can be”.
What are the values of a bank, does your name have any to do with it?
“Recognise is about respect for our clients, Our values is are best described by the anagram ‘I CARE’
Caring For Our Customers
Always Doing The Right Thing
Rising To The Challenge
With regards to recruitment, what’s more important Mindset, Experience or Skill Set?
“Behaviour and mindset”.
When it comes to recruitment there is another anagram Recognise use regularly to describe the qualities they look for which is ‘PEAR’.
Passion & Pride
What Jason really cares about is ‘how do people in the team behave?’
What tips would you give other businesses to ensure they survive and thrive in the future?
1. If you can articulate a compelling vision and a mission for your business that can galvanise everybody. That can be so powerful. One has to, create belief and energy.
2. Keep your customer at the heart, 99 times out of 100 the reason businesses are successful is they understand their customers.
3. Invest in your team as they are the bedrock of your business.
4. Constantly learn and be relevant, you can’t stand still, you have to keep pushing, learning and growing whilst ensuring the culture in your business reflects the same thing.
To finish off the conversation Jason shared what would constitute success for him and Recognise.
“I have set my goal for 5 years from now – its about creating a brand people respect, I want people to know that we understand SMEs and we have one of the best client and colleague experiences.
The obligation to nurture and help others is so strong in me, I feel like it’s time to give back”.
For further information on Recognise Bank’s products and services please visit its web site www.recognisebank.co.uk