Personal Finance: Dog-loving bank unleashes a new way of serving UK customers

Metrobank is bringing a “retail” style of customer care to the UK. Simon Barry meets its vice-chairman and co-founder

May 11, 2011

When MetroBank opened last year, it was the first new bank to open in London in more than a century. And the inspiration behind it, Vernon Hill II, is very pleased with the way things have gone since the first store, as the branches are called, began trading last July.

"It's been wildly successful, much more than we expected. The customers and the press have overwhelmed us with their response," says Mr Hill.

So far, four branches (known as "stores") have been opened: Holborn, Earl's Court, Fulham Broadway and Borehamwood, Anglo-Jewry's biggest growth area in the south of England.

Another eight stores are planned for this year, including one in Watford. The target is more than 200 by 2020.

"We call them stores, because we think of ourselves as being in the retailing business, rather than banking," says Mr Hill. "It does redefine how we deliver. It's meant to be an inviting retail area to encourage people to come in. It's about seven-days-a-week banking, 361 days a year, in great locations."

"I have started four banks in the United States and this is the same model transplanted to Britain," says Mr Hill.

"When I have been asked why Britain and not Los Angeles or Chicago, I say it is because the level of service is so poor in Britain that we saw a tremendous opportunity to redefine what banking is all about.

It is Metro's boast that a new customer can enter a store, open an account, be given a debit card and cheque book all within 15 minutes.

The bank takes what many would view as an unorthodox approach to marketing. For instance, it promotes a "love your dog" campaign and even gives away dog scarves and bowls.

Mr Hill explains: "Most banks won't allow a dog anywhere near the premises. The message we're giving is 'we love your dog, so bring it in and take a bone home with you when you go'."

Mr Hill doesn't mince his words about how some banks in Britain are behaving. "The level of service to the small business community by British banks is shockingly bad. Our business is half consumer, half commercial. We are out there to serve all aspects of the business community and we offer very competitive rates of interest," he said.

In America, he says, there are some 8,000 banks. "Generally speaking, the bigger the bank, the poorer the service to the consumer and the small business community. They are served best by small and medium sized banks, which is where we are bracketed.

"Every town in the US has its own bank, known as the community bank. That's what this model is called over there.

"Borehamwood is a good example. We have a whole team of people whose only job is to serve the whole community of Borehamwood. Customers can see the difference we make and say 'where have you been?' We get that a lot in Borehamwood, probably more than anywhere else. People there are just thrilled to have us.

"What customers want is service, both on the consumer side and the commercial side. Commercial borrowers want a banker who understands their business and can handle their commercial loans. That's what we do very well and why we succeed."

Last updated: 3:57pm, May 11 2011