First Direct boss and Metro Bank founder to launch 'digital' bank Atom


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The Independent Online

Two pioneers of challenger banking have got together to launch what they say will be the UK’s first “truly digital” retail and business bank.

Anthony Thomson, co-founder and former chairman of Metro Bank, has recruited First Direct boss, Mark Mullen, as the inaugural chief executive of Atom, a bank which plans to start trading next year.

“We will be the first retail and business bank in the UK which is totally digitally delivered,” said Thomson. “The use of branch banking has fallen off a cliff and even telephony banking is in decline. The explosive growth is in digital and particularly mobile banking.”

He said he has known Mullen, who became chief executive of HSBC’s online and telephone bank First Direct in September 2011, for several years. “I first started talking to him about joining me about a year ago,” said Thomson who will chair Atom. “He obviously knows a great deal about running a customer-focused bank.”

Thomson said he was not worried about entering a potentially crowded market with the likes of Aldermore and Shawbrook building online banks targeting SMEs, and Virgin Money and Tesco Bank both in the process of launching online current accounts.

He said: “There are 46 million current accounts out there and estimates are that between three million and five million of those will switch in the next 12 months.”

Atom is backed by a number of wealthy individuals and institutions, though Thomson declined to name them. He said: “We have the funds we need to build the bank and then we will have the regulatory capital when we are granted a banking licence.”

Atom will take advantage of the Prudential Regulation Authority’s fast-track licensing regime which helps challenger banks to come to market. Thomson said the bank would not necessarily target younger customers. He said: “It is all about people’s attitude to digital rather than their age. There are plenty of people in their seventies who have embraced mobiles and tablets.”

He also said that, having resigned from Metro in 2012 when it began to plan for a stock-market float which could take place this year, he would probably do the same at Atom. “I’m not really interested in being chairman of a public company,” he said.

HSBC declined to comment on Mullen’s departure. He resigned two weeks ago.