Metro Bank: Banking revolution or the emperor’s new clothes?

Metro Bank

Metro Bank opens its doors to the public today (29 July) with a promise to change the rules of retail banking. But will the bank’s first store in London kick-start the promised “British banking revolution”? Andy Jarvis, group account director at Billington Cartmell, visited Metro Bank’s first branch in Holborn for Marketing Week to find out.

My invite to “Join the revolution” is delivered in the jaws of a large blue plastic crocodile clip as I emerge at Holborn station to witness the heralding in of Metro Bank, Britain’s first new High Street bank in 100 years.

Through the razzmatazz of the stilt walker, jazz band, cakes and media scrum the real retail experience itself is difficult to judge this morning. From my first impression though, I think razzmatazz will play a large part in the Metro Bank experience.

But if the number and diversity of people drawn in from the street are any barometer to the 24% of the population who, according to the Office of Fair Trading, would switch bank if there was a “viable alternative”, then this strategy might just work.

Throngs of bright eyed, beaming staff “hi” me into the glitzy lobby of the main banking hall. Perhaps it’s the excitement of the event or their desire not to ’sell’ to me, but I’m left to wander in.

I imagine on a normal day they would direct me to the area of branch most appropriate to my needs. I hope so, as there’s a distinct lack of signage so I’d imagine anyone coming in for some standard banking function would take a moment to work out how such a ’herd’ free system works.

It’s a light airy, space, helped by the absence of posters on the window and the open plan meeting rooms. The glowing blue, red, glass and chrome are a little retro, but do provide a personality lacking from some of the recent big bank concept stores.

There’s very little in the way of sales messages overall, other than a light box with the “Metro Bank Promise” and “Reasons To Switch”, a board explaining safety deposit box options and the “New Account Gifts” display.

Perhaps the retro feel of the branch has influenced Metro Bank’s thinking as the sandwich maker on offer makes me feel like I’ve just filled up my car for the 50th time at Esso in the 80s.

The seeming reliance on staff to deliver messages and provide the key point for the relationship is refreshing, if not surprising or delighting. They should be core to any bank’s strategy as they are the one point that visitors to the store will engage with. They are core to delivering advocacy scores and key to tangibly supporting ’relationship banking’ brand stories such as NatWest “Helpful Banking” and Lloyds TSB’s “For the journey”, but both these big players struggle with effective staff engagement, so Metro Bank could really shine here.

The Annual
See Anthony Thomson co-founder and non-executive director of Metro Bank speak at The Annual www.theannual.co.uk

Is this refocusing and humanising of the banking relationship enough to claim a revolution for high street banking? Well, Metro Bank has more to offer.

Two points stand out as differentiators in their “Promise”: Convenience, which they clearly evidence through prominent branch locations, opening hours, debit cards on the spot, 24/7 local call centres andonline banking.

The other that stood out, addressing a real insight into consumer’s dislikes of traditional banks, was “No stupid bank rules”. But what does it actually mean? I press the staff for examples and am given a stock answer that it is about “Avoiding a one size fits all, computer says no approach and giving branch mangers autonomy to make decisions.”

This sort of de-centralisation of power, de rigeur at the moment, seems to be something that could really fuel a revolution. It’s all very well to claim it on a poster, or placard, but what really surprised me was that Metro Bank haven’t activated this area with their unique enthusiastic energy.

Products on their website are presented simply, but language is functional, even formal, and they have remarkably long and jargon-caked small print for a bank with “No stupid bank rules”. I also struggle to tangibly understand how these products are more consumer-centric , the likely benefit of working outside of the usual bankers’ constraints.

No doubt I was swept along by the Metro Bank parade this morning. It has been refreshing, exciting and even brave in setting out its stall. I just hope that when the balloons droop and the band goes home the staff are supported in taking up the banner and the revolutionary Metro Bank ideals don’t disperse.

Anthony Thomson, co-founder and non-executive director of Metro Bank, will be a guest speaker at The Annual, Marketing Week’s new flagship conference on 29 September.

Book your place at The Annual now. Visit www.theannual.co.uk for details

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