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The Name: Metro Bank.

The Place: The first one opened in Holborn, London, in 2010 and there are now 42 branches in the UK with the pretty hefty aim of opening one a month for the next five years, which makes a grand total of… a jolly big number.

Metro Bank Borehamwood Store

Metro Bank Borehamwood Store

The Story: Shiny, shiny, shiny. Metro Banks are new and bright and full of lovely clean surfaces. Both literal and metaphorical. And the customer is absolutely king.

But wait, it’s a bank not a retailer: Well, technically yes, but you are the company you keep and Iain Kirkpatrick (MD of Retail at Metro Bank) is keen to point out that he hangs out professionally with retailers not bankers.

Companies like? John Lewis Partnership is an inspiration for them with its seamless links between physical and digital shopping and its relentless mantra that if you look after the customer then the business’ success will follow automatically. Travel retailers and mobile phone companies in particular also give him things to learn from. Yes, he runs a retail bank but he learns his customer service from the retail pros. Other high street banks take note, transactions at Metro Bank are up more than 30% year on year.

What’s wrong with standing in queues for ages and then having to make appointments to come back even later to see an advisor and then waiting again for your lost bank card to be replaced in one week? Aha, I see you are not a Metro Bank customer. In the world of Metro Bank if you went into a branch and reported a lost card then a member of staff with a tablet will print one off for you immediately.

I think I misheard. It sounded like you said they can print bank cards in store: Yes they can. And cheque books. It’s all about instant consumer gratification and no up-selling.

Get out of town! Are you sure it’s a bank? Yes I am but this is the context. Kirkpatrick says that over time customers have lost trust in banks, they expect to be miss-sold products by the cashier in a slightly dingy atmosphere and then be taken into a back room for intimidating meetings with unsympathetic managers.

And they’re fed up: Yes, they are. Metro Bank as the first new UK-based bank in 100 years had to be very different right from the beginning and it has based its model on the best practice in retail. So in no particular order they offer: drive-thru branches, safety-deposit boxes, toilets, virtual queues, and double-height ceilings.

holborn-157

Hold it, hold it. One at a time please: OK, let’s focus on customer-led opening hours for example.

Sounds dangerous. People like doing things at odd times you know: Most banks close at ridiculous times like 5.30pm. Metro Bank follows the way of shops and has hours of 8am–8pm.

Just for that alone I would bank with them: Even better, the usual banking method is to start shunting people out a good 10 minutes before closing, bring the Hoovers out, start stacking chairs, and looking at watches.

Curse the: At Metro Bank you are welcomed in until 8pm and no one is left queuing outside ahead of opening – they will let you in 10 minutes early.

OK, you got me on the hours but a drive-thru bank sounds a bit too casual to me: Just two branches are designed to offer this service at the moment – Southall and Slough.

But why? Imagine that you are a successful business person delivering your takings to your bank at the end of the day. It’s dark, cold and lonely and you have £10,000 in your bag. Good for muggers, not so good for you. It’s convenient and the business customers love it. Metro Bank would like to open more but you have to be very specific with locations – they are most needed in out-of-town locations with no other banks nearby, and on retail parks, with busy traffic junctions.

slough-drive-thru

What about all these shiny surfaces then? Ah, Kirkpatrick claims that a Metro Bank opening in an area often heralds a sudden investment from the other banks in the look and feel of their branches. He cites the case of Aylesbury, which opened last September as a good example of the sudden tarting-up of the town’s other outlets. Metro Bank also offers toilets for customers and baby-changing facilities.

Crikey, it’s almost like they’re happy to have you: The company opens branches based on population size and they have no second-tier sites, it’s all premium and the first thing they often do is to take the first floor out meaning the branches have a lofty, light-filled, airy feel to them.

Like it. I see it very much as a metaphor for their customers’ aspirations reaching to the skies: Yeah, probably something like that. Anyway, possibly uniquely among banks, Metro Bank uses mystery shoppers. Again this is based on the theory that higher service levels generates higher footfall, more accounts and so on.

It sounds like they are too busy being nice to be commercial: Not true but the balance is skewed more to service than commerciality leading to very high brand recognition.

What’s next? The digital space is a coming big thing for Metro Bank. A new website is up and running already and a mobile app is in development. As always Kirkpatrick is focusing on what digital bring to shops and will look to emulate the best of what he sees. It’s off to a good start – 65-70% of customers activate their online accounts in-store immediately on opening a traditional account.

That’s impressive: Well, the opportunity to do so is too good to miss. Most banks take 5-7 days to open the digital banking, then another wait for the PIN number to activate etc…

Yawn. It’s so last century: Agreed. But Metro Bank is quite good at keeping the things from the last century that actually worked – like children and saving.

intmet07

Ah yes, those were the days: If your child takes a bag of hard saved coins in a bag to most banks they will be met with a grimace and a refusal to change it to big money. Not so here. As Kirkpatrick observes it is so bizarre that the future customers are not encouraged to do the saving thing. Think of us as a coin machine with no cost, he says. And for the adults the company is about to trial virtual queuing.

Loving that whole idea: Should negate the need to make appointments and customers in the area will be notified when their place is up.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks. Is it making any money? Yes. It can cover its rent through the safety boxes alone.

Rewind: Didn’t I mention? One of its main innovations – it offers safety deposit boxes to the ordinary consumer. People like you.

Honestly, I don’t have anything valuable enough to put in one: People use them for all sorts of reasons – it costs £200 a year to hold one and if 80% of the boxes in a branch are used then, like I say, the rent is paid.

But truly I just don’t warrant one: What if you don’t fancy paying ever more in insurance, what if you have something totally irreplaceable so insurance is irrelevant, what if you live in a high crime area and fear for your passport.

OK, I get that last one: Unlike your Hatton Garden style boxes, you can open the box on unlimited occasions at no extra cost. People lap them up and no one else is doing it.

It’s yet another winner obviously. Just a couple of hundred are there in each branch? Slough has got 5,500 of them.

Good lord, who knew there were so many valuables in Slough: But mainly there are from 1,000–4,000 in each outlet. The space Metro Bank gain from getting rid of all the little meeting cubicles is utilised for the boxes instead.

metro-bank_037

Where do they do the meetings then? The open plan floors are paved with marble flooring, some side areas however are carpeted and most intelligent people seem to instinctively get it.

Get what? Step away from the carpet unless you want privacy.

I didn’t get it: Like I say.

 

PCMS is a global provider of IT software and services for the retail industry. PCMS offers a full-range of integrated commerce solutions across selling touch points and also provides turnkey managed services and cloud hosting. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.