For this month’s finance section, Sussex Business Times introduces Metro Bank, discussing their journey since being founded back in 2010, and speaks to Managing Director of Business Banking, Ian Walters 

Finance is one of the, if not the most important factor to consider for any business owner, and it’s crucial that entrepreneurs and established business leaders have trust and confidence in whichever bank they choose to deal with their finances. As the first new high street bank to launch in the UK for over 100 years, Metro Bank has made its mark since being founded by Vernon Hill back in 2010.

Just to provide you with a little bit of history – if you can call it that – Metro Bank was granted its license by the Financial Services Authority in 2010, making it the first high street bank in over a century to be granted such a license. Metro Bank planned to open around 110 stores in London and the South within 10 years of starting up, while its first ever store opened on 29th July 2010 in Holborn.

In 2012, Metro Bank went on to raise an additional $200 million in funding from investors and in the same year, Fortune Magazine reported that Metro Bank’s flagship Holborn store had “…garnered $200 million in deposits, four times the total at the average mature American branch”, gaining recognition from brands and organisations worldwide, and in such a short space of time.

Metro Bank is now proud to be the Moneywise Most Trusted Financial Provider for 2016, amongst earning itself many more awards over the brief few years it has been established. Of course, the fact that Metro Bank has only been on the block for seven short years makes all these rewards and achievements that bit more impressive, just some of which including Best Branch Strategy Award at the 2015 Retail Banker International Awards, Moneywise Customer Service Award 2015 for Most Trusted Challenger Bank, PLC Awards 2016’s New Company of the Year, Business Lender of the Year at the 2017 Corporate Livewire Finance Awards and Fintech Finance’s Best Bank Branch 2017.

Metro Bank pride themselves on being committed to providing customers with unparalleled levels of service and convenience, hence incorporating stores that are open 7 days a week, and from 8am to 8pm on weekdays, offering super-quick account opening, on the spot card printing as well as 24/7 locally based contact centres. Giving back to the communities it serves is also one of Metro Bank’s most important elements, which leads them to host thousands of charity and business networking events across its stores every year. Furthermore, kids and family life matter to Metro Bank; it’s not just your standard business bank. Every year the franchise helps thousands of children to take their first steps with money, encouraging them to save and count their coins using their free Magic Money Machines, while learning about budgeting with the financial education programme. It’s clear to see that Metro Bank really does have the interests of customers – whether from a business point of view or not – in mind.

The outcome? A different kind of high street bank; one with stores that are open when it suits you, seven days a week, one where you can walk in without an appointment and walk out with a working account, debit card and all.

Here, Sussex Business Times caught up with Ian Walters, Managing Director of Business Banking at Metro Bank, who provides you with answers to all your burning questions for Metro Bank as a relatively new establishment in the business world…

Metro Bank is a relatively new bank for both the general public and businesses. Can you tell us a little bit about your history, from the start to now?

Metro Bank launched in July 2010 as the first new high street bank in more than 100 years. Our focus is on providing customers with the very best banking experience in the market. We opened our first store in Holborn on July 29, and now have 48 stores across London and South, all of which are open seven days a week, 362 days a year, early in the morning to late at night. In nearly seven years we’ve grown to over 900,000 business and personal accounts, with £8bn in deposits and £6bn in loans. We currently employ over 2,500 colleagues who are empowered to provide customers with the very best in service and convenience, and we have exciting plans to hire around 500 more colleagues this year and open up to 10 new stores in communities including Canterbury, Oxford and Bristol.

What makes Metro Bank different to other banks?

Great customer service and convenience sit at the core of everything we do and as a result, we combine traditional banking services with amazing technology. Customers don’t need to book an appointment to see us and with the right documents they can open an account quickly and receive a working debit card on-the-spot, as well as having their internet and mobile banking set-up for them. Each store also houses free coin-counting machines, for use by everyone as well as safe deposit boxes to store valuables.

As a community bank, we make sure everyone is welcomed in to our stores, children and pets too, with lollipops and dog treats available to all. This community ethos extends to hosting an array of business networking events at all our stores, throughout the year.

What values does Metro Bank follow? How do these manifest themselves in the business community?

The customer is king at Metro Bank. We recognise how important face-to-face relationships are to business owners and we work in partnership with them to help them realise their business goals and growth potential. We place great emphasis on service and convenience – not rates and targets. Every business customer has their own local dedicated relationship manager, who takes the time to really understand the customer as an individual, their business and how they can best meet their needs. They often visit clients at their offices or place of business, to really get to the heart of what they do and the unique challenges they face.

Metro Bank calls itself the Entrepreneur’s Bank – what benefits do start-ups and entrepreneurial business people receive with Metro Bank?

We understand entrepreneurs are busy people, therefore one of the things we do to make their lives easier is open business accounts in a matter of hours, not weeks. Our stores play a crucial role when it comes to the services we provide, from transactional services that are fundamental to the day-to-day running of trading businesses, to offering support and expert advice. What’s more, business owners are able to visit their local store at a time convenient to them. With our extended opening hours, they’re able to fit banking around their busy work schedules.

We also believe that customers should be given choice about how they do their banking, so if they don’t have time to visit a store, they have the option to phone our 24/7 locally based contact centres and if they’re out and about, they can use our innovative mobile app or our internet banking.

Over the past year we have seen record levels of demand from business customers and at the beginning of the year we announced that we had ring-fenced £1bn of funding for businesses, as well as boosting the number of business managers in our stores by 30%. Ultimately we’ve hired more people to listen to our business customers and made sure there are sufficient funds to be lent.

How does the bank help with business growth or cash flow issues?

Whether a customer wants to buy more equipment, increase headcount or just needs a cash flow boost – we’re here to help. We offer simple and transparent solutions for business borrowing and we also have strong invoice and asset finance teams that work in tandem with customers to provide the right solution for them. Our lending process is quick and transparent and customers have direct access to our underwriters and decision makers, which means they can speak to the person making their loan decisions.

Uncertainty is an issue at the moment, with article 50 just triggered and businesses not knowing where the market will lead them. What are your thoughts on how banks can/should support businesses in times of uncertainty?

We’ve seen no impact to the bank or our lending following the EU referendum and the triggering of Article 50. It’s essentially business as usual for us and we’ll continue to support our customers as we always have.

How can banks continue to keep up with the 24/7 demand whilst still providing a customer-centered and excellent service?

In this current banking climate, providing excellent, customer-centric service is not an option, it’s a must. There are three things that are key to the success of Metro Bank – a differentiated model, a unique culture and fanatical execution.

Ultimately, for us it’s about relationship banking, it’s this approach that enables us to really understand our customers and their needs. Rather than viewing them as an account number, it’s important to pay attention to the end-to-end customer experience. At Metro Bank we’re interested in that customer’s business journey, so we’re able to make a tangible difference to their organisation and deliver value to that customers consistently to ensure they have a flawless banking experience at every touchpoint.