Reputation, trust and retail banks

In the UK, high street (retail) banking is dominated by a handful of five, big brands so similar you’d be hard pushed to fit a cigarette paper between them. So news of Metro bank’s launch, which The Telegraph newspaper points out is the first new entrant to this market in 100 years, ought to be welcomed, didn’t it? Especially when you hear its billionaire founder Vernon Hill likes to have fun and plans to “to eliminate every stupid bank rule we can find.”

How refreshing. Well, on the surface, yes. Any newcomer promising to shake things up and put customers (and their dogs) first has to be welcomed, if only to keep the stuffy old established banks on their toes. Reputation, trust and retail banks may finally be coming together. But then I came across this CNN story about Vernon Hill.

The photo is enough to have you running from the room screaming, Edvard Munch-style, but the line that did it for me was “Duffy dines on caviar and filet mignon!” I showed this to a couple of people and one of them said “he’s not getting his hands on my money.” Quite.

Coming soon to London: the dog-friendly bank we’ve all been waiting for. Photo courtesy Photos8

Chances are, the existing banks are so dozy, Metro will succeed all the same. But Hill has some pretty stiff and equally disruptive competition arriving soon in the shape of Tesco and Virgin. Personally, I’m not so sure Metro’s ‘open all hours’ strategy is the right one for UK retail banking, but, being an early and willing convert to internet banking, perhaps I’m not the type of customer he’s after. In my book, the only sensible motive for walking into a bank has to be robbery.

Postscript: shortly after writing this I came across this superb, prescient Harvard Business Review blog The Case for Being Disruptively Good by Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab.

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