Rock past of new bank boss

First published in Business The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

THE North-East-born founder of Britain’s first new high street bank in more than a century believes the sector will look very different in years to come, with more new names cropping up.

Anthony Thomson, co-founder of Metro Bank, which opened its first branch in London in July, was speaking ahead of a visit to Durham City later this month where he will address leading business figures.

Metro Bank, which former Gosforth Grammar School pupil Mr Thomson founded alongside US billionaire Vernon Hill, has promised to revolutionise British banking through initiatives including opening seven days a week and into the evening.

Mr Thomson said: “We are the first new high street bank for 150 years, but we certainly won’t be the last.

“I don’t think we will see the high street change as quickly as some media commentators have suggested because the whole process of regulatory authorisation by the Financial Services Authority, with tougher regulation, will make it a longer process, but new entrants will come.

“We have Virgin coming, Tesco we know are coming and there are others, but I think they will take a little longer than people might think.”

Mr Thomson, whose first savings account was with Northern Rock and who said he was “excited”

to be returning to the region at the invitation of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, felt it was important to differentiate between new banks and those being established as parts of other businesses were sold off.

NBNK Investments, which started trading in August and is to be led by outgoing Northern Rock chief executive Gary Hoffman, wants to establish 600 high street branches, possibly by buying Northern Rock or branches that Lloyds has been ordered to sell in return for state aid.

Mr Thomson said: “Gary Hoffman is going to NBNK which I wouldn’t call a new bank because they are planning to buy some of the assets of an old bank, such as Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland or Northern Rock.”

Asked whether it was a good time to start a new bank, Mr Thomson said: “It would have been easier to start a new bank two or three years ago because, prior to the downturn, the regulatory process would have been simpler and less arduous from a business perspective.

“It is more about consumer habits. I have been in financial services all of my working life and you always saw the same piece of research about banks where customers may not particularly like them, but they could trust them to be there to return their money.

“It was the same research for 25 years until the collapse of Northern Rock, then people are saying, ‘I don’t trust my bank to look after my best interests’.

“In the past, four per cent of people switched accounts on an annual basis, last year it was eight per cent, but the recent survey I saw said 38 per cent of people said they would go to a new bank if they had a real alternative.”

■ The Entrepreneurs’ Forum takes place on November 30 at the Radisson Hotel, in Durham, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. For more information call 0870-850-2233 or visit entrepreneursforum.net

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