Open every day, dogs welcome: the new face of high street banking

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The Independent Online

The last time a high street bank opened in Britain, William Gladstone was Prime Minister, the police in London were striking and England was about to face Scotland in the first ever international football match. The year, if you haven't guessed, was 1872, and the Co-operative had just opened its doors.

Yesterday heralded what could be the dawning of a new era in the history of British financing, with the opening of the first branch of Metro Bank in Holborn, central London.

The chain is launching itself at a time when bankers are about as popular as biblical tax collectors. But this, its owners say, is exactly what will help the bank thrive – it will be different to its competitors.

Metro branches – or "stores", as they prefer to be called – will open seven days a week from 8am (Monday to Saturday) to 8pm (Monday to Friday) and 11am to 4pm on Sundays. Employees at their London call centre claim they will pick up their phones within three rings and you will be able to open an account, complete with card and pin number, within 15 minutes. There are even in-store treats on offer for dogs brought in by customers.

Over the next year the bank hopes to open a further eight stores in London and there are plans to launch 200 outlets nationwide by 2020. The downside to such uncharacteristically helpful banking practices, however, is that Metro's rates are not as tempting as those of its high street competitors.

Not that Ruwan Ranawake seemed to mind. The 46-year-old from Twickenham, south-west London, was one of the first people to open a new account at yesterday's launch.

"It took a little longer than 15 minutes but you can't really blame them for that on their opening day," he said, clutching his brand new Metro debit card which had been printed on a machine at the back of the branch. "It's good to see a newcomer on the scene and I'd like to support it. I'll give them six months and then decide whether I want to move permanently with Metro or stay with First Direct."

Mr Ranawake, who works in the banking sector, had travelled to the Holborn branch with his son Dileepa, 20, both of whom left with a bag stuffed full of Metro-branded goodies (a free sandwich toaster was available for those opening an account with £50).

Waiting for a chat with the cashiers, seated behind a long open desk shaped more like a hotel check-in counter than a security-conscious bank, was Angela Moore, a local who had come down to the launch with her neighbour, Andrew Murphy.

"It's the opening hours that have got me interested," she said. "Banks around here are disappearing all the time and the queues are horrendous. Neither of us have the internet so we need to be able to walk into a local branch."

Nearby is Metro Bank's founder, Vernon Hill, an American billionaire who made a fortune with New Jersey-based bank Commerce Bancorp. Clutching his Yorkshire terrier, Duffy (now you know why the bank is so dog-friendly), he said: "This model is about redefining the service experience and that's why I compare it to Apple. Apple redefined the computer business and they redefined the mobile phone business."