By Dave Baldwin
Metro Bank is bringing its “revolution in British banking” to Bradford. The challenger bank said its new outpost will combine face-to-face banking with state-of-the-art technology, providing residents and businesses with a customer-focused and convenient banking experience. It is one of two Metro openings planned for Yorkshire, the other being in Sheffield. Metro refers to them as stores, rather than branches, emphasising perhaps a point of difference on the retail approach.
The lender launched in 2010 and has taken its time to expand beyond London. Earlier this year, it received a helping hand from Banking Competition Remedies, the fund set up by RBS to increase competition in business banking as a condition of its taxpayer bailout during the financial crisis. Metro said the £120m award would bring much-needed competition to the underserved SME hotspots in the North while investing in digital capabilities and creating new jobs.
Its investment research into Bradford will have revealed a thriving and diverse economy worth £10.1bn with fertile conditions for growth: the best business rate relief, value for money in commercial space rent, job vacancies and road infrastructure (all helpfully identified by Barclays in naming us the best city in Britain to start a business). The district is home to 18,000 VAT and PAYE-registered companies. More than 4,000 new start-ups formed last year. Each and every one of these businesses needs modern and responsive financial services to support its ambitions, which their current lenders may or may not be providing.
SME banking needs are changing fast, which is why the Government and regulators are keen to encourage more competition in the financial services sector. The big five banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander – have traditionally dominated the UK market but challengers like Metro, Starling and Tide are providing an alternative for the new generation of business owners who expect innovation in their financial services.
Metro’s Bradford store will be at the former Five Guys restaurant – one online wag commented you needed finance to buy a burger there – next to the Broadway shopping centre. Fast food will make way for fast banking with customers able to visit without appointment and open personal or business accounts on the spot and leave with debt card in hand along with internet and mobile banking set up.
Craig Donaldson, chief executive officer at Metro Bank, said: “Bringing the banking revolution to Yorkshire is a real milestone for Metro Bank. We’re thrilled to be arriving in these two cities next year.”
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford council, added: “It’s great to see Metro Bank choose Bradford as one of its first locations in the region. The city is home to so many successful SMEs and Metro Bank have obviously recognised this with their new investment.”
The Bradford and Sheffield stores will create around 50 new jobs. Bradford has a strong financial and professional services sector with nearly 9,500 people employed in banking, insurance, fund management, accountancy, management consultancy and legal services, according to lobby group TheCityUK. That’s more than six per cent of the total workforce. We are home to major financial institutions including Provident Financial, Yorkshire Building Society and UK Asset Resolution and specialists such as Ecology Building Society, Al Rayan Bank and Atrium Financial. PwC, the global professional services giant, opened an assurance centre in the city earlier this year to tap into our talent pool.
Bradford is steeped in financial services with expertise dating back to its prominent role in the Industrial Revolution. Early lenders such as Bradford Old Bank, founded by woolstaplers in 1803, and Bradford Commercial Joint Stock Banking Co, founded with capital of £1.5m in 1833, helped lay the foundations for the banking industry as we recognise it today and became constituents of Barclays and RBS.
Metro will join a strong and growing sector of financial and professional services companies invested in Bradford. Competition is healthy for any market place and our SMEs should benefit from the introduction of new products and services tailored around their changing needs. Metro’s eye-catching blue, red and white branding will also be a welcome addition to the city centre. Just don’t call it a branch.
• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club