The junction of High Holborn and Southampton Row is one of London’s busiest. It’s also home to Metro Bank’s flagship branch. Metro Bank opened its doors in the summer of 2010, the first high street bank to start up in the UK in over 100 years. On the outside it might seem like any other bank, but look closely and you’ll spot signs that Metro is doing things differently: the unexpected sight of a dog bowl inside the door gives the game away.
Metro Bank’s promise is lofty: to revolutionise the system in the UK, “changing the way Britain banks.” It’s clearly working. This year they’ll pass the one million accounts mark.
In an industry where most players talk about the importance of digital, Metro places its attention on enhancing the face-to-face relationship with the consumer. “That seems to resonate with people as many feel they are left behind by digital,” explains Metro Bank’s chief commercial officer Paul Riseborough, sitting in his first floor office at Southampton Row. Paul explains Metro’s ethos is driven by a return to face-to-face banking with an emphasis on being personable and adaptive.
High street competition is fierce forcing many branches to close. Metro Bank isbucking that trend and opening stores (how Metro refers to branches). The emphasis on bricks and mortar is perhaps surprising – and one that feels counter cultural – but it’s framed around what the customer wants. The brand promise is straightforward: a bank that opens early and closes late, seven days a week. Appointments to open accounts are unnecessary; debit cards and cheque books can be printed on the spot in-store. Within twenty minutes, new customers can have a fully functioning account. The bank has two drive-thru stores for customers too busy to leave their cars. After hours their stores host networking and charity events for the local community.
With a brand that’s investing in bricks and mortar, being human rests with Metro’s employees, or ‘colleagues’ as they call them. Metro Bank early on decided that pinning its success on face-to-face interactions had to start with its colleagues. The bank recruits from outside the sector and most of its colleagues have a retail background, coming from high street stores such as Boots and HMV.
Paul says the bank hires for attitude, and trains for skill. “They bring a different mindset that’s all about customer focus,” he says. “That means when you cross the threshold into a Metro Bank, it’s a different experience”. At Metro this human approach starts with the bank’s relationship with its own people. Colleagues are incentivised on service orientation rather than on financial goals. The brand has initiatives in place to celebrate and share its culture internally. They publicise and celebrate great customer stories via their social networking tool Yammer. There is a weekly Revolution News email newsletter and an annual awards ceremony, The Amaze Awards. Every Friday is ‘Magic Friday’ when colleagues wear red to work. “All these things may appear like gimmicks but they go deeper than that. They are touchstones of our culture and humanise our brand for our people,” says Paul. For Paul, being a human brand is ultimately about letting go. “To be customer-centric you have to let the organisation breathe. Banks that command and control lose their humanity. Rather than centralise decision making at Metro we say, let 1,000 flowers bloom. You have to give autonomy to colleagues to do their own thing.”
Colleagues are empowered to make their own decisions and encouraged to say ‘yes’, rather than ‘no’ to customer requests. It also removes a level of bureaucracy when its people are empowered to do whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. Paul cites an example of a colleague spilling coffee over a customer – the colleague would have the authority to hand a customer £50 for dry cleaning.
Being human is also about staying close to the customer. Paul says Metro’s ‘secret sauce’ is their ‘Voice of the customer programme’ that is used in performance management along with research panels, mystery shopping, Net Promoter Scores and social media feedback. In customer journeys colleagues can access a ‘single customer view’ dashboard. “This summarises everything the customer holds and does with the bank, ensuring we are on the same page when we interact with them,” says Paul. “That changes the dialogue and builds empathy.”
With customer communication, the bank strives to keep things simple and understandable. All communications are run by the Plain English campaign, accounts come with a handy one-pager called the Important Information Summary. At the Southampton Row store senior management are able to stay close to the customer. Head office is above the banking hall. “Sometimes when we walk through the bank on the way to our offices, customers collar us. That keeps us grounded,” Paul says.
As for digital, it remains important, but it’s ‘the plumbing’ of the operation that helps the bank satisfy customer needs. The website is being relaunched, but it’s less a sales funnel and more a reflection of the brand. Metro Bank’s desire is to deliver an experience comprised of ‘bricks and clicks’ with customers able to access human beings if they want to. “The philosophy is to use digital to give our customers choice,” says Paul.
Metro Bank believes the opportunity – and the challenge – in humanising financial brands is in bridging the gap between brand promise and brand reality. Paul recently saw a competitor’s human-centered ad campaign. “The trouble is, it felt superficial. You have to be honest and authentic, which is hard to do if you have the baggage of a big bank from the financial crash and erosion of trust. That cultural transformation is difficult.” “A lot of banks need to get more grounded and understand the consumer. We’re lucky. We have a clean slate; no heritage baggage.” As for the dog bowls, Paul says Metro welcomes customers bringing dogs or bicycles into their stores. “The dog bowl humanises our story. Because being human is about being idiosyncratic”.