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Metro - building a bank on decent CRM (for once)

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 23, 2015
Metro Bank is a digitally-enabled challenger brand in financial services, but one built on a CRM success factor that's escaped its bigger rivals - it's OK to treat your customers as human beings rather than accounts.

I’ve just changed my business bank after my previous provider - Lloyds Bank - topped off two years of essential incompetence with a coup de grace of not processing an important tax transaction as instructed, then passing the blame back on to me as “You must have done something wrong”.

The fact that I was able to prove that I had done no such thing wasn’t enough to earn me an apology, but did earn Lloyds a none-too-fond farewell. (The only reason I hadn't bailed earlier was the hassle that setting up a business banking account in the UK involves, but eventually the pain of staying outweighs the inconvenience of moving!)

I’ve moved my business across to Metro Bank, a name that possibly doesn’t mean very much to anyone outside of the southern part of the UK at the moment, but which is one of the new breed of digitally-enabled  ‘challenger’ banks with grand ambitions.

Note I said digitally-enabled rather than digital.  This is not an online-only operation - like First Direct, for example - but a bricks-and-mortar banking chain that is digitally-enabled:

  • It uses off-the-shelf solutions instead of building bespoke systems
  • It’s a major cloud user, with a hefty investment in Microsoft offerings
  • It uses Lync to host phone calls.
  • Yammer is used for internal messaging to reduce levels of email.
  • It’s pretty much paperless when it comes to account management. 
It’s outsourced its IT infrastructure

For founder Vernon Hill, an American entrepreneur, the technology aspect is crucial for the firm, arguing last year that:

The smallest bank in Mississippi has better IT than the British banks. In Britain the IT is one step up from a quill.

Hill declares he wants customers to have a “wow factor” as soon as they walk into a branch - or rather a store as Metro insists on calling them.

So there are sleek designs, high ceilings, bright colors, dog treats on the counter - Metro encourages you to bring your canine pal with you into the store - and lots of staff waiting to help customers from round tables with comfy chairs rather than having them line up at counters and shout through glass to make themselves understood.

Stores are open 7 days a week, almost all year round - Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and New Year’s Day are the exceptions and even then the customer support team is working - and open early and close late, well outside normal banking hours.

It’s all about improving the customer experience, notoriously bad in UK retail banking circles, and causing a quiet revolution in financial services. There’s nothing much in banking terms that Metro is doing that differently; it’s just the way in which it’s doing them that is the competitive differentiator.


Last week at Convergence 2015 in Atlanta, Bruce Rioch, head of business information and customer systems at Metro Bank, gave some insight into how technology is helping to achieve that goal, citing the mission statement of being:

based on an unparalleled level of service to customers. It’s a proposition about pure service. We’re open seven days a week, early and late. We’re using technology to underpin the level of service that we give our customers.

metro bank interior
Bright and open

The bank only launched its first store 4 years ago so Rioch admits he has been fortunate enough to work in a real greenfield site with no legacy system to hold the business back. So it is that he can boast of the near-paperless state of the operation:

If you walk into a Metro Bank store and open a bank account, we will actually get you to sign the account declaration on screen. We’ll get you to sign terms and conditions on the screen and then we will email that directly to you, rather than print 28 pages of terms and condition you quite frankly don't want to take out with you anyway.

Metro Bank operates principally on the Temenos banking platform, alongside a mixture of Oracle, SAP and IBM software. The bank runs two private cloud data centres, in which customers transactional data and financial history are stored, in Dublin and Holland. Public cloud strategy revolves around Microsoft Office365 and Dynamics CRM.

Most recently Metro has been trialling PowerBI to support its goal of “bringing data to life” across the organisation. The bank had previously been using PowerQuery to pull data from different systems, build on-the-fly data models and present them via Sharepoint. Rioch recalled:

For us, that was transformational. We were able to get information from anywhere about our customers or our business and actually present that across our business so that people knew what was going on.

But there were limitations:

Our CEO, who is very demanding as CEOs are, said ‘I only want to look at one screen. I don't want to have to keep going in to different dashboards and scrolling through different screens’.

Six months ago, Metro Bank began trailing PowerBI and this has added a new transformative element to the operational model, says Rioch:

What PowerBI does now is give you the ability to say ‘that’s my favourite metric and I’ll pin that to the dashboard’.

The CEO now has his very own personal dashboard with charts, pins, whatever it is, from around about 9 different sources. There’s information from the online banking platform, our mobile banking platform, how many accounts we’re opening or closing, we can see how many complaints have been raised a day and how many of them have to be closed that day before they become reportable to the regulator.

Literally every single number that is important to the CEO is on one dashboard in front of him. Every morning he just comes in and has a look and he’s got an overall view of the whole company instantly.

It’s great for him and probably not so great for everyone else because he’s really on top of everything really rapidly.

metro bank dog

But the added insight is not limited to the executive office, adds Rioch:

We’re building a business and we’re growing really rapidly so we need to be on top of everything. My role is to provide insight across the organisation to do the right thing for the customers.

We have PowerBI that reaches out to everyone in the organisation. Everyone can see what they need to see. We have the ability now that we can share the appropriate dashboards with the appropriate teams.

With the Sharepoint version, everyone could see everything and it would be a case of ‘Which one shall I open first?’. Now we have groups of people who only see what they need to see. We've built bespoke dashboards for groups of people, so the exec team has one, the product proposition team has another one, store managers have their own.

The ability to ask questions is fantastic, to get that little bit extra insight is great.

My take

My experience with Metro has been interesting, albeit only 2 weeks in. The store is bright and cheerful and the staff are smiling a lot, unlike the local Lloyds branch where every approaching customer is met with a look of trepidation and the counters used as a barrier between bank employees and the ‘others’.

The online sign-up process was pretty simple and conducted there-and-then in-store using a tablet. There was a minor moment of ‘computer says no’ when I realised that my photo ID - my driving licence - was 3 days out of date which meant that I would have to return with my passport.

But whereas this would have brought proceedings to a grinding halt in other banks, the Metro account handler completed everything as though I had provided the correct ID, then told me just to pop back in with a reference number and an in-date ID, present it at the main reception desk and that would complete the process, without having to start from scratch or have another conversation with an account manager.

This willingness to help was in stark contrast to Lloyds where everything was presented as a chore over the past two years.

Twenty-four hours later I got my debit card issued and the account sent up. Compare and contrast with Lloyds where it took nearly three weeks to do the same.

At this point, we hit the only real glitch (so far) as the account manager handling the internet set up was clearly inexperienced - his first time, he kept telling me - and in fact when I returned home I found that I wasn’t able to access my account.

A trip back to the branch next day to investigate had the problem solved in ten minutes - the system hadn’t saved my password details when being set up for some reason, almost certainly human error - and profuse apologies offered, with no attempt made to blame me as the customer.

Even though I’d been put out of my way by a bank employee not on top of his job, I wasn’t annoyed simply because the situation was resolved on the spot, with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of apology. Everything worked quickly and easily, with no standing around while a counter clerk sullenly stabbed away at a green screen terminal trying to work out where someone might have hidden my account details.

This is the clear advantage of challenger banks - that lack of legacy IT baggage dragging them backwards. But Metro Bank to date has also demonstrated a long-held maxim of mine - that you can’t buy good customer management.

Oh, it’s invested in CRM systems from Microsoft, but the most important success factor in its CRM thinking is that it doesn’t regard the customer as a flaming nuisance. With that as the foundation platform, then investing in CRM software and services will help deliver the ROI you want.

Lloyds last year committed £1 billion to rebuilding around digital and customer-centricity. If it hasn't got that first principle right that Metro Bank has, that will be money down the drain. Too late for me anyway...

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