Getting To Know You: Jonathan Thompson, Co-founder & CEO, B-North


B-North is a challenger that is being developed to serve the UK business lending market. Founded in 2018 by former Santander and Atom Bank executives, B-North is in the process of applying for its banking licence.

What do you currently do at B-North?

Co-founder and the CEO of B-North – we’re building an SME lending bank for the UK.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

UK SMEs have long been underserved by the banking sector – they get squeezed between mass market retail financial services and the bespoke support which is reserved for larger corporates.

Whilst SMEs are often, rightly, referred to as the engine of the UK economy, the closest many business owners get to a relationship with their bank is the telephone number of a remote contact centre.  That may suffice for simple day to day interactions, but for a more complex transaction where a business is looking to borrow a material amount of money, a remote relationship is far from ideal.

There is a real appetite for change, so we set about creating a technology-enabled, people-centric, specialist lending bank, which combines the relationship management and debt expertise of a Tier 1 corporate bank with the speed, cost and agility of a digital bank.

With our infrastructure based on the cloud, we are establishing regional ‘lending pods’ where our teams can interact with businesses and brokers in their local market to deliver tailored lending support of £500k+.  We will dramatically cut the time it takes SMEs to borrow from a bank, from 4 months to as little as 10 days.  And we want to simplify the process for business owners, enabling them to get back to what they do best – managing their business.

Who do you admire?

I admire anyone who has made a career by following their passion in life.  Not many people I know would place banking in that category!  But then banking does run in my family, and until fairly recently it was almost impossible to set up a new bank – so you say I’m following a passion, or at the very least a worthy cause!

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

That’s difficult.  I would have done this earlier if I’d had the chance, but then life and practical, real-world business experience is key, particularly when you’re in front of investors and stakeholders (which for us includes the Bank of England) explaining your business model.  Investors in particular look for insight – a simple gut feel isn’t going to get you far.  Recognising this, I am not surprised that there is wave of entrepreneurs who are taking that step slightly later in their career, and building very successful businesses as a result.

What defines your way of doing business?

There is a saying ’if you’re looking into your business then your backside is facing your customer’.

At B-North were are obsessively thinking about the customer experience.  There is so much wrong with the deal that SMEs get from big banks, and we see genuine opportunities all around us. Above all we are authentic.  At B-North ‘authenticity’ is a quality that we look for in all of our colleagues, in order to build the best bank we can.  We are not changing the world with an app – we have a real-world business model that is grounded in what SMEs need.  It just so happens that our people centric, forward looking business, is enabled by state-of-the-art technology, but we are clear that the technology is the enabler, not the reason we are here.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

If you have an idea you believe in strongly, chances are someone else will too – it’s a big world.  Do your research find your niche – your unique way of delivering – your USP.  Combine that with relentless focus and hard work the only way is up.  Now is a great moment to use your insight and make your idea a reality!