‘We are the go-to place for SMEs for all of their banking and admin needs’

The banking sector in the UK is in the midst of a digital revolution, and as companies look to differentiate themselves from the major high street banks, a selection of innovators have risen above the rest.

One of these companies is Tide, who have seen their membership numbers (customers) soar over the last few years to more than 270,000, and a 4.5% market share of SME business banking. Tide also now has more than 320,000 current accounts.

Tide’s CEO Dr Oliver Prill joined the business in 2018 and has led its rapid scaling into one of the UK’s leading business financial platforms. He has over 20 years leadership experience in financial services, having worked across the banking and insurance sectors.

Relentless focus on SMEs

Oliver comments further on what Tide offer: “Tide is effectively a business finance platform. We are the go-to place for SMEs for all their banking and admin needs. Our mission is to help small businesses save time, by helping them through the disjointed financial parts of running a business. Tide makes it possible to have the entire processes available in a single platform, saving companies time and money.

“In terms of scale, we have been growing very quickly – and the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated it further. We have risen to around 4.5% of the market share in just a few years. We achieved this through a relentless focus on SMEs – and this is the group we solely focus on.”

Founded in 2017, it isn’t just financial services that they have become known for.

Prill continues: “We provide everything that a small business owner would need to sort out their finance and admin. In total, the UK has almost six million SME businesses that don’t have a formalised finance function – so it is a very large market. Many don’t have a finance department and the business owner might be doing it themselves along with the other parts of their job, for example.

“Tide solves the finance and admin worries an SME owner is presented with every day. So, in addition to banking products like current accounts and credit, we also provide admin tools like payroll, invoicing, expense management and other accounting systems. We don’t interfere with the core elements of running a business – but we are the go-to for the crucial financial admin side of the business.”

Plugging a gap in the market

So, how has Tide achieved its levels of growth in less than four years?

Prill explains: “What we saw was that business banking was pretty broken. After the last financial crisis, the competition report into the SME banking market revealed that business owners were not satisfied with how their banking worked. Our view was that it wasn’t only banking that was broken, but it was the whole finance and admin industry.

“At Tide, we call it the connectivity chain – our admin and finance processes feed into each other, but in the past, they were all dealt with separately and manually. We connect these, and that is what Tide is all about. We deeply embed the processes and make it work seamlessly together to save SMEs time and money. With the growth we have had – we must be doing something right.”

Growth through funding

With high levels of growth and lofty aspirations to continue their upward trajectory, Tide have utilised venture funding to accelerate the implantation of their technology, and grow their team to meet increased demand.

While many companies use funding as a way to facilitate growth – Tide have used it differently from others within the banking sector.

Prill comments: “We are fully venture funded and investor owned. Our Series A happened in 2017 when the company launched – we raised £11m. I joined a year later as CEO, then we have a Series B in September 2019, which raised £44.1m. Series C is due to begin sometime next year. Like all venture funded businesses, we go through the cycle of going through rounds of funding, and we will continue to do so.

“A lot of our competitors have venture funding rounds when they are running out of money – which is not the right way to think about growing a business. We use it, so that at every Series point, we have a strategic milestone. For Series A – it was proving basic product market placement. It was to discover if there was a place for our proposition – and this was proven in 2017. Series B was to prove minimum efficient scale – that was when we grew to over 100,000 members. Series C is about proving our ability to provide true transformational scale in the UK – and we now have more than 270,000 UK SMEs banking with Tide and 4.5% market share. Series C funding is about a proving point for the business.”

Overcoming challenges

Despite the rapid rise of Tide, and its successful venture funding rounds – there have been issues that Prill and the company have had to face.

He explains: “As you grow, there are different challenges provided by the growth path – and in the last few months there have obviously been some exceptional circumstances facing businesses across the UK. The general challenge that has faced Tide is similar to many other exponentially growing companies – you need to match the ever-growing demand that is out there, while correctly scaling the business internally to meet that demand, and to maintain a high level of service to customers.

“Also, a lot of what we do is cutting edge product development. As you scale, you need to meet the increasing volumes of requests for your services, which means you need to scale your product engineering to match it to continuingly delivering on what you are providing.”

How to lead a fast-growing business?

Tide has scaled at pace, and despite the clear challenges that the company has faced, it has established itself as a leading figure within business banking in the UK.

With any exponentially growing company, the role of the leader is vitally important, and Prill has guided Tide through funding rounds and increasing market share.

So, how would he describe his leadership style?

Prill explains: “Fundamentally, my view of a leader is what I would call a ‘servant leader’. My role focuses on three areas. One third of my role is focusing on strategic leadership – to plan the future of the business. This is an especially important challenge for a leader of a fast-growing business. You need to have someone focused on what is the future direction of the business. For us, that means speaking with investors and senior managers within the company to create a strategic roadmap.

“The next part of my role is about helping with the organisational side of the company – hiring the best talent, setting up processes that can handle scalable growth and putting plans in place for employees to work with high levels of autonomy. My role is to implement these processes and set the right targets. Then, as part of this role, when issues arise, I spend time solving them. Finally, the role of every leader involves a lot of admin, speaking to shareholders/investors and meetings.”

Future for Tide

Notwithstanding Tide’s incredible growth in a relatively short space of time, Prill believes that the company will continue on its current growth trajectory, and expand internationally.

He concludes: “We have done well over the crisis to grow the business and help out our members, but we need to stay on top of this and face the challenges that will be there.

“Also, we are halfway to our target of a 9% market share and 500,000 members – and this next level of growth won’t achieve itself without a lot of hard work – we still have a lot to do! In the future, I don’t believe there will be players in the SME market that will have more than 10% market share – and if there was, I don’t think it would be right for the country. Therefore, we will cast our eyes away from the UK and our future plans involve internationalisation of Tide.”