28/04/2011

By Mike Southon
FT Columnist

My recent column criticising the banks stirred up a hornet’s nest of e-mails from entrepreneurs complaining about the poor service they receive.

I was therefore intrigued to meet Anthony Thomson, Chairman of Metro Bank at an event I was facilitating for The Institute of Customer Service. The delegates were impressed with his concept of a bank specifically designed around the premise of providing excellent customer service, not just focused on making a tidy profit from its customers.

Thomson built and sold CFM, Europe’s largest financial marketing service, and later co-founded the Financial Services Forum. The idea for Metro Bank was formulated over a fish and chip supper in Lisson Grove with Vernon Hill, who had founded, built and sold Commerce Bank in the USA.

Thomson had admired Commerce Bank, not just for is $50Bn in assets and 500 branches, but for its status as the only bank loved equally by both its shareholders and its customers.

They raised £75m in equity and went though the significant effort of securing FSA approval, before finally being granted the first full service banking licence for a high street bank since the 19th century.

Metro Bank attracts it customers in interesting and original ways. They have impressive loose change counting machines, which will convert a random pile of coins into cash, without charging a commission for anyone, not just a Metro Bank customer.

Instead struggling with a pen on a chain, you are encouraged to help yourself to their free pens, and your dog is welcomed with a bowl of water and some dog biscuits. Opening a personal account takes less than fifteen minutes, a process done at a normal desk, not through bulletproof glass at a counter.

Metro Bank’s advertising offers to surprise and delight every customer with seven day banking, late opening hours and most enticingly, ‘no stupid bank rules’.

The biggest complaints by far in the feedback I received from my article were around the banks’ poor attitude, perfectly parodied in Little Britain by the catchphrase “computer says no”.

Thomson’s rule is that while it only takes one Metro Bank employee to say yes, it takes two to say no. They never refuse to consider customer requests just because it is too difficult or inconvenient to find a superior who can make the actual decision.

Metro Bank has the distinct advantage of having their IT systems built from scratch using the latest cloud technology.

This means not only a very cost-effective solution for Metro Bank but also enables their staff to see all their clients’ mortgage, insurance and bank account activity on one screen, not spread over several different, incompatible platforms as often happens in the traditional banks.

It is early days for Metro Bank, who for the next three years will focus their activities within the M25. They have five branches in Central London and Borehamwood and will soon open in High Street Kensington, Croydon, Bromley, Ealing and Uxbridge.

They do not charge the lowest interest rates on loans or overdrafts but believe customers will be willing to pay for convenient opening hours, working credit and debit cards supplied on your first visit to the bank, swift decisions on overdrafts and bank loans and a genuine commitment to provide world-class customer service.

Commerce Bank succeeded because to the shortcomings of others in US retail banking. The UK is a very different place, not used to fierce competition and clever tricks in the banking marketplace. But if Metro Bank delivers on all their promises, then I am sure many currently disgruntled banking customers will vote with their feet, and their paws.

Metro Bank can be found at www.metrobankonline.co.uk

Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.

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