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Alexis Phillips Risk Management, Credit Risk & Analytics, Credit Risk Analytics...

In our latest MERJE Meets, we sit down with Chris Blampey, who is Head of Risk Strategy for leading FinTech & Digital Bank Chetwood Financial. 

Chris has been with Chetwood since 2016, and has played an integral role in the growth and evolution of the business. Chris has covered the full credit lifecycle across all retail lending products, from customer selection and prospecting, onboarding and underwriting, account management, collections and debt sales.

In this instalment, we discover what inspires him and how his role within the business has been impacted during the recent pandemic.

Can you describe your role at Chetwood and the part you played in setting up the business?

My role is Head of Risk Strategy, which is a combination of managing prudential risk, supporting the Credit Risk team and working on new risk projects. My decision to join Chetwood was down to the fact that the strategy really resonated with me, in particular, the focus on making better products and the primary route to market being through partners, underpinned by new technology.

As employee number three, I’ve had the opportunity to help shape the business, push standards and set strategy. Whilst at times it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, the rewards of working for a fast-paced, tight knit company are evident – our agile nature has helped us grow the business sustainably and allowed us to continuously create innovative products designed with the customer in mind.

Can you summarise the business, it’s ethos and culture, and what you do differently to help Chetwood stand out from the crowd?

Unlike traditional banks, we’re not looking to build a customer base and then cross-sell to them. As a native digital bank, Chetwood’s vision is “to use technology to make customers better off” - specifically, we target customers who have been traditionally under-served, such as younger customers with no existing track record of borrowing, or customers who’ve had minor adverse credit performance in the recent past.

The starting point for us is customer research – all of our products are designed collaboratively with customers, including the key features, branding and customer journeys. We then turn the ideas into reality, challenging the status quo wherever possible to keep costs as low as possible so that we can pass on the savings to the customer.

How has the current pandemic affected Chetwood and your day to day role?

Like many others, we haven’t been back to our Wrexham office since we first left in March. We were fortunate in that having set up the business to function remotely from the outset, the initial adjustment was fairly painless as our day-to-day systems are all cloud-based and all employees have a laptop.

Seven months in, however, I’d say the lack of social contact has been the hardest part. The company has grown by 37 people since the start of the lockdown, most of whom have never visited the office or met anyone they work with face-to-face. That being said, we’re ensuring everyone across the board feels engaged, having organised virtual welcomes for new starters, interactive catch ups to maintain our great culture and regular socials that include anything from virtual escape rooms to live DIY haircuts raising money for charity!

I’m based in East Yorkshire so from my perspective, it’s meant that I haven’t had to do the weekly commute which has been quite nice! I also already worked two days a week from home before the start of lockdown so, again, that part has been seamless.

What are you most proud of about the business?

The customer feedback and knowing that we’ve been able to help people by providing real choice; our consumer-led brands, LiveLend and SmartSave, have achieved a Trustpilot rating of ‘Excellent’, with a combined average rating of 4.6 out of 5 for customer satisfaction.

We’re also proud to be gaining wider industry recognition, having been nominated for various awards. We’ve recently been shortlisted in this year’s Engage Awards and UK Business Tech Awards following our unique use of data within our products.

What has been the defining moment in the history of the business so far that has been the catalyst for its success?

As you can imagine there have been quite a few milestones since we outlined the initial business plan! The three events I remember the most, however, are securing the initial investment from Elliott, our main investor, the first loans going out the door when we launched the world’s first dynamic loan, LiveLend, and being granted a full UK banking license in 2018, the only retail bank to do so that year.

The UK is seeing an increasing number of FinTech business coming to market, how do you see this impacting the industry overall?

If you take retail banking as an example, the barriers to entry were historically so high that the established high street banks were left unfettered and unchallenged. This all changed following the simplification of the authorisation process and you’re now seeing a range of different business models and approaches.

Crucially, fintech is opening up the value chain, so that you no longer have vertically integrated entities competing in every market. So, for example, Chetwood was able to launch with a single product, distributing through ClearScore and leveraging third party payment providers to move the money around.

What’s really exciting is you now have an ecosystem of partners; product providers, distribution partners, payment services and data and analytics specialists all working together to drive real innovation and competition. Inevitably some of these will fail, but others will establish themselves as long term alternatives to the traditional players.

What advice would you give to rising talent in your industry? 

I’d encourage them to move around, either within an organisation or between different companies. Before I worked in banking, I spent seven years in consulting across utilities, transport, telcos and pharmaceuticals. I think a lot of the best ideas come about by taking something that works well in one sector and applying it to another.

If you could go back in time what advice would you give to your former self?

Focus on the things you can influence and make the most of every opportunity.

If you could instantly gain a new skill what would it be?

Play a musical instrument.

Name 3 positives that have come out of lockdown.

One thing I’ve found is that I’m more flexible with my working day. Before, even when I worked from home, I tended to be quite regimented; however now, for example, I’ll sometimes do something else in the morning and work later into the evening.

More generally, I think this whole experience has proven that a lot of organisations can function perfectly well with people working remotely for the majority of time. As a result, I think we’ll see a permanent change in the use of office space and less commuting - which can only be good for the environment.

Something people might be surprised to learn about you?

I once did a trek to Everest base camp!

Thanks to Chris for his contribution...if you enjoyed catching up with him as much as we did, do stay tuned for the next instalment of “MERJE Meets…” If you are a business leader and would like to contribute to our Q&A blog series going forward, then please get in touch with our PR & Marketing team at info@merje.com

If you would like to talk about your recruitment needs in more detail, whether you are seeking an interim or permanent hire, please no not hesitate to contact any of the team at MERJE.