Tim Trailor (Executive MBA 2006) started his professional career in the ‘traditional’ finance sector, moving, as his career progressed, to new fintech-driven firms taking a fresh look at banking. As Chief Credit Officer at Monzo, the self-titled ‘bank of the future’, we talked to Tim about how a new generation of banking is shaking up the staid sector. And why a background in physics is surprisingly applicable to credit risk and lending!

Career background

I began my banking career as an Analyst, working in risk strategy. I went on to work in most sectors within the unsecured consumer lending industry across a large number of European and North American territories.

I made the decision to do an Executive MBA at the Business School because I was looking to get a more general rounding in business. I had reached a level of management where I was starting to understand and be involved in not just the technical/statistical side of lending, but the commercial side too. Understanding how a finance department or a marketing team views the world, being able to speak their language and understand their concerns has been really useful. Imperial was an easy choice for me.

The Imperial Executive MBA has a great reputation and a programme structure which fitted around my work commitments. I also had a connection to the College having completed my MSci Physics in 2001.

Science to finance might not seem a linear transition, but the highly logical, scientific way of thinking I learnt whilst studying physics is very applicable to credit risk and lending. Plus I enjoy solving tough problems. It’s surprising how many analysts in banking have backgrounds in maths, science or engineering subjects, and physics in particular.

Building a bank, together

I started working at Monzo in 2018 and I am responsible for all the lending side of the bank’s business. Monzo is forging ahead in the fintech sphere and is quite revolutionary in the way it operates. We’re engaging with and talking to our users in really unique ways, and we’re being much more transparent – as our tagline says, ‘We’re building a bank, together’. We share our product roadmap publicly and discuss where we’re taking our business next candidly with our customers. When Ticketmaster had a data breach last year, we spotted it quickly, notified Ticketmaster, contacted all the customers who were affected, replaced their cards – and communicated with them clearly at every stage.

We’re also really investing in things which help our users, even when there isn’t a profit in it. Last year we led the way in the industry by introducing a gambling block to help customers struggling with gambling addiction control their spending. The way we’re approaching things is really resonating with people, who’ve been turned off by the opaque and solely profit-centric ways many banks have operated in the past. In the last few months alone Money Saving Expert rated us the best UK bank for customer service, and Which? rated us as the top UK bank for customer satisfaction – in both cases it’s the first time we’ve been big enough to make it into their survey so we’re delighted to have taken top-spot in both in our first year!

The future of fintech

Being a ‘fintech’ means we build fantastic modern technology. This lets the lending team be much more nimble and to make use of some of the more innovative tools which are currently emerging, like machine learning approaches for credit scoring and open banking data. But of course there are challenges. One of the main issues is one all startups suffer from – the absence of efficiencies of scale. Without them, the only way to really compete is by being more agile than the competition.

Monzo moves very fast – the pace of development is phenomenal. But we’ve also just surpassed 1.7 million customers, so we’re really starting to get to a pretty meaningful scale too. As we grow, we need to maintain our agility and keep up the pace of development. If we can partner that with scale then we really will be set to radically transform the banking industry! Lending is an incredibly complex area with lots going on and lots of tough problems to solve. But it’s also an area which has a material impact on users’ lives. If done well, it can help users achieve their goals in ways they never thought possible. That ability to tackle hard problems which have the potential to really help our users really excites and motivates me.

Reflecting on your time at Imperial

Imperial is academically excellent. The quality of the education it provides and the calibre of my fellow students was exceptionally high. That core training in how to think logically and how to apply core business principles is something I use every day in my work.