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My first boss: Charles McManus, ClearBank chief executive officer

Charles McManus has worked through the Baring crisis and the Big Bang over an extensive banking career. Photo: ClearBank
Charles McManus's long career in banking spanned the Baring crisis and the Big Bang. Photo: ClearBank

Charles McManus, 60, has been CEO of ClearBank, the cloud-based clearing bank, since it was founded in 2015. McManus was Group CFO of RBS Ulster Bank Group until 2013 after over a decade in various roles including CFO of Europe and Asia for the Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets.

In 2022, ClearBank secured £45.4m in revenue YTD and reached monthly from October 2022. With 17.5m bank accounts and £3bn held in balances, it now supports over 200 financial institutions, including Chip, Raisin, and Recognise Bank. McManus oversees more than 500 employees, with an average age of 37.

John essentially ‘fired’ me verbally three times during the time that I worked for him. In the end I became his right hand man as I was able to stand up to him.

I had trained at KPMG as a chartered accountant. In those days it was a rare event but one of the partners left to become group finance director at Hambros, the merchant bank. I had a choice of whether to try and become a partner at KPMG or go into banking. So I left KPMG in 1989 to join Hambros and while I was with them I had various roles, including COO of its treasury and capital markets business.

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John was in charge of the business division and had a brilliant intellect. Back in the 1980s investment bankers were on the trading floor. He wore red braces, smoked large cigars and was one of the first in at 5am. He didn’t suffer fools and was driven in relation to the business. Some of his behavioural aspects left a lot to be desired.

We were innovative and launched lots of new products. We did the first forward rate agreement in the London marketplace at the time and one day we got called up to the deputy CEO because John said we were ready to go live, whereas I said we needed a few more days.

In the lift going back down he used his colourful language to say how unacceptable I had been. He needed to expel hot air while I was the rational one. He didn’t talk to me for five days and we then went live as we should have done. In those days, every time the trading floor made £1 million in revenue the champagne trolleys came out. John soon spoke to me again as if nothing had happened.

Charles McManus spoke at the 2022 Web Summit. Photo: Web Summit
Charles McManus spoke at the 2022 Web Summit. Photo: Web Summit

With those relationships, you have to stand up to the individuals and do it through facts and objectivity with no emotion, albeit that it is frightening to do so at the time. In a management environment, I learned a tremendous amount about doing what’s right no matter who's shouting the odds whilst you are doing it.

John had a great business mind. He would always come up with, ‘Have you thought of this counterparty? Or this bond structure?’ He was respected for his sheer intellect, less so on behavioural aspects but I would hope John would be highly complimentary on my position today.

Since ClearBank launched, we have had the right culture of no fear, transparency and if things go wrong you talk about it. Up until employee number 62 I welcomed every new recruit to the bank for 10 minutes or so. Because we recruited so many, I now do a round table and I talk about the values and why they are so important.

At Hambros there were six different grades of staff restaurants. At ClearBank there is no hierarchy and it is about getting people to work together. We describe ourselves as a fintech with a banking license, rather than a bank that wants to become a fintech.

A man looks at his iPhone which displays the ClearBank logo (Editorial use only).
ClearBank is the UK's first purpose-built clearing bank in 250 years.

Because we are cloud native, we can run the bank from anywhere in the world. In the pandemic, everyone was trying to get on to digital payment rails with the least human touch. We were growing as others couldn’t operate their systems virtually. It was a brilliant tailwind for us, with people wanting digital fast and ClearBank having the technology.

In terms of purpose, we are making a difference to our customers. For those institutions that want to compete against the digital banks of Starling, Monzo and have old legacy tech, you have to get on to banking platforms like Mambu or Thought Machine with ClearBank to then compete against them.

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I set out for ClearBank to be the best global infrastructure bank in payments. We are focused on trying to be the best at it and developing embedded banking in apps. For example, with innovation platforms we are going to transform the whole of the UK housing market experience. Instead of all the chains and waiting for the solicitor to give you the keys, you could decide on a Friday that the whole chain will be done in real time with payment from ClearBank.

I was meant to be semi-retired before a former head of equities at Royal Bank of Canada said I should have lunch with ClearBank founder Nick Ogden who had this crazy idea. I told my wife that I would do it for two years but the opportunity now is bigger than when we started. And it keeps me young.

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