Metro Bank bets branches will still be around in 2050 – but they’ll be radically different

By Oliver Smith 15 December 2016

While every major bank abandons the high street, Metro Bank is opening new branches.

HSBC has closed a quarter of its branches over the last two years, the Co-operative Bank has closed half of its high street branches over the same period, and Lloyds Bank is planning to close more than 200 branches in 2017.

By some accounts high street bank branches could disappear within a decade.

But there’s one bank going against this trend.

Metro Bank, which was Britain’s first new bank in 150 years when it started in 2010, is opening new branches across the country, over a dozen in the last 18 months, in stark contrast to the rest of the industry.

Read more: What to make of Metro Bank, Britain’s first new bank in 150 years

Even Metro Bank’s Director of Digital, Martyn Atkinson, firmly believes in brick and mortar.

Metro Bank Cheapside
Walking into Metro Bank, Cheapside.

The power of the physical

“In 50 years I think there’ll be more bank branches than people would expect,” Atkinson told The Memo.

“And I still firmly believe they will play a key role in customer’s financial lives.”

What that role is, however, is still up for debate.

Atkinson believes that, similar to the way mobile phone stores are shifting to become less about selling handsets, and more about giving advice and support, bank branches are due to undergo a similar shift.

“People become more valuable. [Customers] experience what I term as ‘moments of truth’, where they’re looking for physical interactions and comfort of engagement, like when they’re applying for a mortgage or planning for retirement.”

“I genuinely believe there will always be a need for a physical presence.”

While he’s a strong believer in Metro Bank’s branch strategy, that doesn’t mean Atkinson doesn’t have big plans for the bank’s mobile app next year too.

Mobile-powered banking

Metro Bank’s mobile app and website were two of the things I criticised last year when I signed up, they simply weren’t up to scratch with modern banking apps, but next year that’s changing.

Due “early in the first quarter 2017” the new app boasts “the ability to block and unblock cards with a swipe that Metro Bank pioneered, along with some great new features such as touch ID, lightweight spending analytics and the ability to create new payees.”

We’ve no doubt it’ll feature highly in our 2017 Great Mobile Banking App Review.

But while Atkinson is clearly proud of the work Metro is doing with its digital presence, he dismisses the idea that the group is becoming a ‘digital bank’ akin to challengers like Monzo or Atom Bank.

“What we do want, is to ensure that our digital capabilities for customers offer the same level of world class service we offer through our mediated physical channels,” he says.

“So we’re certainly focussed on building our digital capabilities, but alongside growing and enhancing our store network and contact centres.”