Most interviews with Metro Bank’s founder, Vernon Hill, start with a bit of colour: the bank’s coin-sorting machines; the entrance of Sir Duffield II, the second dog to bear the bank’s flag; or Hill’s own uniform of double-breasted suit, tie bar, and red “M” cufflinks.
This time around a conga line of about 50 employees dances around the office singing Mambo No. 5; this is not a normal bank.
This is the routine for all new employees, from clerks to senior managers. Metro Bank was the first new high street bank in 100 years when it launched in 2010, and US levels of customer service for its “fans” – to make your average Briton cringe – are a key part of the sell.
At a time when the big British banks are pulling back and closing branches, Metro Bank is pursuing a headlong expansion plan. Hill’s condemnation of the incumbent lenders could barely be more cutting.
“The British banking market has been a cartel for 40 to 50 years,” says Hill, sitting in his office in Holborn. “Because of that they’ve underinvested in facilities, people, IT.”
Hill’s thesis is that the lack of competition led to a “we’re doing you a favour” philosophy in British banks and a complacency which has made them vulnerable to disruption. Meanwhile, the model of crossing investment and commercial banking on both sides of the Atlantic has “pretty much failed”, he says, pointing to Barclays’ travails.