Mark Mullen: The Innovation Interview

Mark Mullen, Co-Founder & CEO of Atom Bank shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of banking.

Mark started his career in financial services in 1989 at Forward Trust Group, the finance house and leasing subsidiary of Midland Bank plc, where he spent a decade working in a number of businesses including personal finance, vehicle finance, asset finance and corporate strategy.

In 2000, he joined HSBC in London to help develop and launch its business internet banking platform, and in 2004, Mark moved to HSBC’s UK headquarters to lead marketing communications for the UK bank. He took over as Head of Marketing at first direct at the end of 2006, and between 2009 and 2011 he was the Regional Head of Marketing, MENA for HSBC Bank Middle East, working out of Dubai.

In 2011, Mark took over as Chief Executive of first direct, and his role enlarged to include leadership of the HSBC UK Contact Centres in 2013. In March 2014, Mark resigned from the HSBC Group to co-found Atom as CEO.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovations are ideas that improve life. That improvement can take many forms. It covers everything from fun to efficiency to cleaner, faster, more beautiful, more informative, more sustainable. Atom believes we have a license to innovate everywhere and being a bank offers no more impediment to innovation than being a pharmaceutical business, a car or plane manufacturer or a public body like Transport for London.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Banking; retail banking has spent more than two decades being lazy and taking the market and customers for granted.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Don’t bark at passing cars and don’t ever, ever send an e-mail in anger.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I really have no idea.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both. I gather most of my news on-line but I still like paper books.

What were your greatest takeaways as CEO of First Direct Bank and how did you apply those takeaways to co-founding Atom Bank?

People matter most. All ideas, all businesses, digital or physical are the expression of the people who create them. Get the people right and you have a much higher chance of achieving success.

As a digital-only bank, how will you use design and wearable technologies to stand-out from the crowd and appeal to the underbanked establishment?

We will stand-out if we are original and unique and it makes no difference whether this is about wearables or anything else. Doing something that’s ‘me too’ is a waste of time and money and it is not why we started this.

The British Bankers’ Association recently published research showing that UK-based customers conducted almost 40m mobile and internet banking transactions each week in 2014. With the formal introduction of Atom Bank, what is the bank currently forecasting in terms of the mobile transactions number per week?

I don’t know but I wouldn’t tell you if I did.

What role will cryptocurrency play in a digital-only bank if any?

None for the foreseeable future. We are seeing right now that currencies are only as strong as the commitment central banks are willing to provide to them.

What is the future of a digital-only bank and how will you position Atom Bank for that future?

I firmly believe that the future of banking is ‘digital first’ not ‘digital only’. I can’t see why banks will employ people to do your banking for you when you can do it better yourself. I really do believe that the Atom model of digital first with a highly trained team on the phone to help you sort out problems is a better model than the ‘multi-channel mess’ that exists today.