NORTH-EAST bank Atom is trying to raise about £20m to support its planned launch next year.

Reports said the bank's backers included North-East investor and Lep board member Jeremy Middleton; Paul Pindar, former chief executive of the outsourcing group Capita; and Lorna Moran, the founder and chairman of recruitment group NRG, which has already been awarded the contract to recruit Atom's workforce.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Labour peer Lord McFall, a former member of the parliamentary commission on banking standards, will join the Atom board.

Last night, the bank issued a statement to confirm it was increasing its investor base and details would be made public in due course. A spokesperson declined to confirm if the leaked story about a £20m fundraising was correct. 

The lender, which will operate what it has called “the UK’s first digital-only bank,” will today confirm it has brought in London-based agency TH_NK, which has a regional office in Newcastle, to help design innovative systems and software that help Atom lure customers away from traditional high street lenders.

This summer, Atom took over offices previously occupied by Business Durham, at Aykley Heads, near Durham City. It will attempt to carve out a niche in a rapidly-changing market which this week saw Lloyds announce it was axing 9,000 staff and 150 branches as it jettisoned an earlier pledge to be the last bank on the high street and succumbed to the growing demand for online banking.

Atom will have no branches but offer current accounts and mortgages for both retail and business customers online and via apps.

It expects to employ an initial 160 North-East staff in roles ranging from customer services to research.

Atom, which is still waiting to have its banking licence approved, has ambitions to build its own headquarters adjacent to Durham’s Rivergreen Centre, employing up to 400 people.

Anthony Thomson, Atom's Newcastle-born founder, explained why its new digital partner had beaten five rival bidders to the contract.

"In addition to their creativity TH_NK clearly share our vision and ambition to build a truly revolutionary proposition for customers.

"We have a unique opportunity with Atom and our creative and commercial partnership with TH_NK is going to be central to delivering our shared vision,” he said.

In 2010, Mr Thomson founded Metro, the first new high street bank set up in Britain for more than 150 years. Alongside him at Atom is Mark Mullen, who was chief executive of First Direct, which broke the mould by offering banking services that customers managed themselves over the phone and online.

Tarek Nseir, the chief executive of TH_NK, said: “For us this is a dream brief - a disruptive challenger brand operating in a market that’s ready for change. The Atom team are both talented and ambitious and have a clear vision for how they will be changing the industry. Together we’ll be creating some amazing work in a partnership that already goes very deep.”

Stewart Bromley, Atom’s director of people and customer experience, sought to allay concerns that a digital-only bank would offer an impersonal service. He said: "When approved Atom won’t be a remote bank; Atom will be closer to the customer than any branch could ever be.

"We have the opportunity to build services that go wherever the technology and the customer lead. TH_NK are going to make this happen with their digital design work.

"They understand and constantly challenge our ambition to empower consumers. They understand where we and more importantly where consumers want to be, and how technology will empower those choices.”