Metro Bank’s founder hand picks every new store it opens — here’s how he chooses

Metro Bank chairman Vernon Hill with staff <em>(Photo by REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)</em>
Metro Bank chairman Vernon Hill with staff (Photo by REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

British challenger bank Metro Bank is opening its 38th “store” in Southall this weekend — and the exact site of every single one has been hand-selected by founder and chairman Vernon Hill.

Hill told Business Insider: “We have an in-house team that go out and find sites and filter the ones that I should see. If they would show me 10, I might approve 4 out of those 10 and maybe 2 out of those 4 would actually get built.”

Hill’s attention to detail when it comes to location is unsurprising given his background. He says: “When I got out of college my first business was developing new store sites for chains and McDonalds was my first client.

“I probably did a couple of hundred businesses for them. I still have that business in America and we’ve done many, many sites for many, many chain stores.”

What Hill is best known for in the US though is Commerce Bank, which he founded back in 1973. He told BI: “Metro Bank is based on my experience in America with Commerce Bank, which started with 1 location and grew to approximately 500.

“We always saw ourselves as a retailer that happens to be a bank. Because of that, in Britain and America we’ve got to have the best store on the best corner in the best site. In America, I personally approved 500 plus sites and in Britain I personally visit and approve each site.”

He says it’s hard to say exactly goes into deciding on a new site: “When you’re choosing these sites it’s probably a quarter science and math, 75% gut.”

Once he’s set upon a site though, the are certain key touches that make it recognizably a Metro Bank. Hill says: “We’re so fanatic about the look that we often in Britain rent the ground floor and the first floor and physically jack hammer the first floor out because we’ve learned over the years that high-ceilings matter.

“Some have written that this is almost like the Apple view of building stores and I would say there’s some truth in that. The store is not only a location to do business but an expression of our brand.”

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Metro Banks are bright, with big windows, and each one has a “Magic Money Machine”, which converts loose change into notes.

“I want it to be friendly, I want it to be fun, we want them to say ‘Wow’ when they walk in the store,” Hill says. “Shoppers, whether they’re buying shoes or banks, they look at shopping partly as an entertainment experience. That’s what we believe.”

“Our stores are 7 days a week, we’ve got free coin counting, we welcome your dogs, we’ve got safety deposit boxes where the other banks have shut them down and you can open an account in 10 minutes. You get a completely different experience to any other British banks.”

The latest store, in Southall, has perhaps the most unusual feature yet — a drive-through window.

“We’re the only bank in Britain that has a drive through,” Hill says. “You can do everything but open an account. You get a high percentage of your daily transactions through the drive-in.”

“You would never build a suburban commercial bank in America without a drive-through, but it’s never really taken hold in Britain.”

Hill co-founded Metro Bank in 2010, the first new High Street lender in Britain in 100 years. It focuses on what Hill terms “Greater London” — a loose geography that stretches as far as Brighton, Reading, Cambridge, and South End.

Metro Bank plans to open 1 new site a month and already has sites lined up for Newbury, Maidstone, King’s Road in Chelsea, Bexleyheath, Wimbledon, Chelmsford, Clapham Junction, Canonbury, and Oxford.