It seemed entirely logical for the chief executive of the newly launched TSB to ask Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard to be the voice of the brand. After all, Paul Pester, a Cambridge doctor of physics with a Spock-like intellect, reasoned that Mr Picard, (well, Sir Patrick Stewart anyway), had a familiar voice that TSB’s 4.6 million customers would trust.
But when the request went in, he was shocked to be told “No”. Sir Patrick did not want to be associated with a bank. After all, banks are bad, right? They create misery with their bonus-fuelled casino gambling ways and end up costing taxpayers billions. But the actor hadn’t banked on Mr Pester’s persistence. As Mr Pester recalls: “I wrote to him personally and said ‘we’re not like that sort of bank’. We’re about local banking, helping the local community.”
The letter worked, and a couple of weeks ago, in Los Angeles, Sir Patrick did the voiceover.
It’s an anecdote that speaks volumes about the message Mr Pester wants to give about the TSB, which went live on our high streets yesterday. TSB will not do any of the “socially useless” banking its rivals conduct, he says, citing the phrase coined by Adair Turner, who was at McKinsey with Mr Pester in a previous life.
“So do not come to our bank if you want your investments to go into derivatives, investment banking, large corporates overseas. We will be all about using customers’ deposits to help create local economic growth. We are doing what is right for Britain and trying to right some of the wrongs of the banking industry.”
Although the branch signs may look new, like his glass-walled office and open-plan City headquarters, TSB is not, of course. Its 631 branches are actually those that Lloyds was ordered to dispose of by the European Union after the taxpayer bailout following its disastrous takeover of HBOS. Those 4.6 million customers aren’t new either. They have been moved from Lloyds under a deal whereby, if they want to remain with Lloyds, they’ll have to transfer, with all the hassle that entails.
The branches were, of course, destined to fall into the hands of the Co-op, before the small matter of a £1.5bn black hole emerged in the bidder’s accounts. Now, Lloyds has opted to float it as a standalone company instead.
As such, Mr Pester is keen to give TSB its own, distinct personality: a real alternative choice to the big boys. “We are here with a really clear mandate to bring more competition to UK banking,” he says. “How are we going to do that? By bringing a local banking model back to Britain.”
Analysts say this message – of a clean, trustworthy retail bank – is similar to that being espoused by Lloyds. Indeed, the TSB’s products are still Lloyds products, the staff still mainly Lloyds staff. Some argue that Mr Pester, who remains an employee of Lloyds until the flotation next year, will have a hard task differentiating from its bailed-out, PPI mis-selling old parent. But he is making the right noises.
The website will soon have real-time data backing up Mr Pester’s spiel about “local” lending; it will show where in the country banks take deposits and where it lends them. He’s planning clear explanations online for customers about how the bank makes its money. He is pushing hard the tale of the Rev Henry Duncan, who set up the first Trustee Savings Bank in Scotland in 1810 to help working class families manage their erratic wages.
If Mr Pester seems an old hand at getting across the message of new, or newish, business, it’s because he is. He launched Virgin Money for Sir Richard Branson. Then he led the integration of Santander’s various divisions. Even at McKinsey in 1995 he was launching new businesses, helping the BBC create its digital strategy.
Geraint Davies, an old chum from his first job after Cambridge, at a consultancy called Scientific Generics, says he got his first taste for launches there, albeit at an operation that was not entirely successful: “He was selected to run a Tokyo office. It was a hospital pass really – but he went and gave it the best go anyone could. He had such dedication and commitment.”
Mr Davies recalls that in those days Mr Pester was “more triangular” in physique. He was a competitive swimmer at national level, even racing in the same squad as olympic medalist Sharron Davies. Nowadays he has the lean torso of the triathlete – on Sunday he did the North Norfolk Triathlon.
Such toughness is reflected in his mental make-up, according to a former colleague from McKinsey, William Vaughan-Lewis. Referring to the Co-op shenanigans, he says: “Paul’s extremely resilient. You saw that with him over the last year at Lloyds. It must have been very hard for him with all the to-ings and fro-ings. But he has stuck with it.”
Mr Pester refuses to be drawn on the Co-op fiasco other than to describe it as a “soap opera” and say the flotation is the best option for the bank. That’s a spectacular understatement. Had the Co-op deal gone ahead he would have been playing the lead not in a soap, but a tragedy.
Man at the top: The boss's biography
Paul Pester, chief executive of TSB
Education: Tamar High School, Plymouth. Manchester University (First in Physics). Oxford University (Phd in Physics)
Car: Range Rover
Reading: Why Nations Fail: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian
Last track played on iPod: “Echoes” by Pink Floyd
Hobbies: Triathlons, surfing, sailing, renovating house in Norfolk