By @SimonCocking

In depth interview with David M. Brear Chief Thinker@TD_Grp #FinTech strategist, talker, writer & do’er. Helping#banking be better. #DigitalBank @FinTechMafia #FinServ25#nextbank100 #cityampowerlist

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

Long story. I started off being super sporty and was heading towards being in sports, as well as training to be a physiotherapist, but after tearing my ACL and MCL (ligaments in your knee for those who don’t know) while playing basketball that was that dream over.

Having always had a flair for mathematics and computing, which I got from my dad, I decided to let out the geek. I completed those other courses but then did a total flip from Jock to Geek and also studied computing for undergrad, trained to be a Microsoft and also a Cisco network engineer and spent a lot of time in dark basements doing my time studying and practicing programming 🙂

For my masters I studied eCommerce and but really got into Financial Services through a work placement with a company called Foolproof who are now the largest independent usability company in Europe.

After 000’s of hours watching customers through user testing I learned a huge amount. I really owe those guys at Foolproof a huge debt and really owe my eye for good user experience and design as well as my desire for financial services to them. Its showed me how all of the super technical things I had learned could be combined to serve the customers rather than just technology for its sake and I’ve been true to that ever since.

Once I caught the taste for FS I decided I wanted to work in all of the dark corners of the industry to fully understand it. With this in mind I worked for Aviva and Lloyds Banking Group client side establishing their digital transformations programmes, Infosys on the offshoring and consultancy side and lastly for Gartner running their global Digital Banking practice.

Been a hell of a journey and have delivered some awesome things throughout it. I don’t think I would change one second of it.

Think Different Group picks up where the above leaves off. I always knew that at some point that I would startup something on my own, I just figured I would be a bit older than I am today when I did it.

Having worked client, agency and consultancy side one thing kept coming through to me is that in this industry there are not many true experts.

Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of people who want to be expert, and that’s excellent, but equally there are a huge amount of management consultancies, consultancies, systems integrators and research companies who have maybe 2-3 truly world class subject matter experts but function with their clients by trying their hardest to sell them a few hours SME time and then 6 months of the army they want to land. The old switcheroo.

Its no wonder that the banking industry got itself into the state it did with all of these companies selling into Financial Services either the D team or grads they have just scraped out of some university or another. That won’t fly for me, never did when client side either, but is common practice in the industry today. These companies even have different rates for financial services companies than they do for people in markets like retail; just because they can!

While I was working in Gartner I met Rowan Taylor who at the time was running their banking practice. Over a beer or two one night in London we came to the realisation that in the industry we are in the more senior you become the further away from the work you love to do and also that there must be some better way than this. Scouring the market there wasn’t. So as all good origin stories start we decided to make one 🙂

The banking, insurance and payments markets are going through unprecedented levels of change; be that competition, regulatory, technological, customer or cultural. This is forcing companies within the financial services ecosystem to think very differently about their environments, competitors, regulation, customers and importantly who their suppliers are.

We believe it’s now time to Think Different to sustain competitive advantage and we are here to help banks and insurers with that.


How has the last 12 months been for you?

The last 12 months have been crazy. This time last year I was getting ready for Gartner Symposium but really if I hone in on the last 6 months then they have been some of the best of my life.

The first 6 months of Think Different Group have been excellent. We’ve worked with some of the largest global banks on the planet, travelled to exotic places to do keynotes, as well as working with some amazing startups coming into the industry.

I couldn’t possibly have asked for more in the first 6 months but have higher expectations now for the next 6 🙂

Creating something from new really makes you appreciate how hard it is but how easy some things should be.

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Anything you’d do differently?

If I had to give anyone thinking about starting up their own company some advice its would be make sure you get your foundations in place correct up front.

Most companies I see setting up are totally focused on the “thing” that they are producing whether that’s a product or service or whatever. When you’re starting out that’s fine for like a week but then having solid foundations is what makes that good idea a business.

Honestly I see this as one of the most major failings in the FinTech industry currently. Nearly all accelerators and startup foundries for me do not create sustainable companies but just FinTech products.

The industry is not helping people create companies just ideas although we have an idea to help improve that situation.

What FinTech trends are you excited by?

Where to start. APIs, Big Data, Blockchain, Opening Banking, Mobility, IoT and Artificial Intelligence all really excite me greatly but being really honest the biggest thing that I’m excited about is what FinTech bring for culture change within large organizations.

Somewhere in the last 18 months the business cases of most banks have turned from opportunity of doing something to the need to not be missing out and culture change is no exception. All banks for me have this issue and I’ve seen no one that has fully fulfilled their potential in this space.

Over 300 years of working in a certain was has created a legacy culture that has held back nearly all of the banks. Group think of hundreds of thousands of people has led to cultures where even if a bank CEO personally sponsors a project their organization can sabotage it.

Technology, the “business” and the customer have become separated and I see FinTech as the catalyst for this no longer being acceptable and throwing the spotlight on the dark arts that happen in the dark places in banks that no cares to look.

Fundamentally banks are spending too much money to achieve so little and FinTech can be the catalyst for showing a better way.

For those that don’t know, what is the FinTech Mafia, what does it do? 

The FinTech Mafia was established because we wanted to have private chats about things that we feel are important, vent a little about people or things that require discussion and honestly at its heart just connect with like minded people.

I can honestly say its a total privilege to be able to talk to the likes of Michal Panowicz, Chris Skinner, Jim Marous, Brett King, Duena Blomstrom and Brad Leimer and many more on a daily basis. I can honestly say I have made friends through FinTech Mafia with some of the best minds on the planet and will keep those friendships for a lifetime.

Its a great resource. Between the group I don’t think there is anything concerning FinTech, Banking, Payments, Insurance, Culture Change and Technology that someone in the group isn’t an industry recognized expert. If you can find a better educated, experience or balanced group than FTM then I’d be surprised.

Best part of the group is there is a great dynamic and some of the funniest people I know. I genuinely find its one of my greatest sources of inspiration and insights. Having 22 of the worlds brightest subject matter experts on tap 24/7 365 is like a dream come true for me.

Before anyone asks we are not accepting new members. We’ve talked about it a bunch of times but the dynamic in the group is great at the moment and we don’t want to spoil that.

We have some great ideas of how we see the group expanding in the future but for now we are happy as we are.

How well are conventional banks responding to the changing FinTech developments? What should they be doing better?

I’d say I would be being really kind to them all if I said mixed. Some have carried out some interesting experiments and some had learned some things about what needs to change but I don’t see anyone who have put it all together and can consider it under control.

Various banks are approaching it in different ways from building things in house to looking to partner with firms externally to drive change. There is no “right” way but just some a lot “righter” than others shall we say. J

Do you think bitcoin (or something similar) will achieve wide adoption, if so how soon, or why not?

Nope – Afraid I can’t see that happening. At some point there will have to be a local or global government intervention to legitimize some form of digital currency but I don’t think Bitcoin will be that.

Where there is a significant base of users on something comes the governments and regulators and with them come taxes. They wont be able to stay out of it forever.

Your plans for the future? 

We have big plans for Think Different Group with expansion, recruitment and a product we are working on at the moment that I’m certain all banks will benefit from.

The product was something I came up with while sitting in my job in Lloyds Banking Group and it will be great to finally be able to get that off the ground. Its one of those solutions that I see every bank needing so hopefully we can fill a nice niche. Can’t say much more at the moment J

The future is very bright in the direction we are looking… now we just have to move in that direction 🙂

Blogging, who do you follow / like?

All my friends in the FinTech Mafia are the people I would start with if I were advising anyone on who to follow to understand this space.

In no particular order (as I know they will moan) Brett King, Chris Skinner, Ron Shevlin, Jim Marous, Dave Birch, Cherian Abraham, Bradley Leimer, Duena Blomstrom, David Gerbino, Mike King, Deva Annamalai, Alex Jimenez, JP Nicols, Bryan Clagett, Sam Maule, Lisa Kuhn Phillips, Simon Taylor and Michal Panowicz.

In addition I always look out for Matteo RizziMariano Belinky, Rob Findlay, Roberto Ferrari, Liz Lumley, Jason Bates, Andra Sonea, Bill Sullivan, George Kelsey as good sources of insights and inspiration.

If you were looking for true experts I’d hold everyone in the above in that category. You’re probably looking at the top person in many of their organizations and they are all top people to boot.

How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

To my wife disgust I’m always online so its pretty impossible to balance something that heavy! I’m seriously lucky to be in an industry and career that I love so for me its never really work.

I’ve got two wonderful kids (Ivy 18 months and Joshy 3.5 years) who keep me occupied when I’m not thinking FinTech which is great and I’ve got a very understanding and loving wife Sarah who puts up with me, the travelling and the long hours.

I love my job but I love my family more so when it comes to balance I know what and who come first.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or @SimonCocking

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