Triangular chairs with gleam of sun rays shining through (2)

Breaking the mould, being unreasonable, and building a bank that people value

20 April 2016

Anthony Thomson is an unreasonable man. Or so he told us at last month's event at The South Place Hotel, concluding RPC and GC Magazine's Dissenting Perspectives series of three speaker events. 

The straight talking co-founder and ex-chairman of Metro Bank shared his thoughts around the importance of breaking the mould in business and the key to standing out in the market. GCs from a number of sectors attended the evening to understand Anthony's thought process in launching a high street bank at a time when the traditional players in the market were closing outlets faster than a bank teller can say "dog biscuits in branch."

Of dog biscuit fame, he told us: "I think the reason it resonated with people" – so much so that a cheeky journalist had asked if this was Metro's only point of differentiation – "was because if you can take your dog into a Metro Bank store, and it pees on the floor or worse and we don't care, it gives you a sense that we care more about you as a customer, than we care about us as a bank." Culture matters more to Anthony than strategy. He argues that you can have a great strategy, but if your team is not aligned behind it, it's going nowhere fast. And conversely, an organisation can have a mediocre strategy, but if the team is really passionate about its delivery, you will achieve something. This is equally true for in-house environments where we have all seen examples of well-aligned teams delivering exceptional results without re-inventing the wheel, just because they are all committed, engaged and communicating with one another well. Legal practice, just like many sectors, has been alive in recent years with buzzwords and an emphasis on strategic innovation. While "blue sky thinking" is all very well, if your head is in the clouds and your team doesn't share your vision, are you leading them at all?

Anthony's own strategy for Metro Bank came in 2007 out of the insight that people don't like banks. Backed up by market data, he argued that banking has to happen, but consumers no longer trust banks. His premise, therefore, was simple. Build a new bank, a bank that people like, a bank that they value. And to get to being a bank that people like, Anthony focussed on price less than other banks do ("only 11 per cent of people choose their bank based on price") and more on service. To provide great service, Anthony fixed on creating a great organisational culture. Dispensing with sales targets along the way, he filled Metro Bank with service-oriented people who were fans of the bank themselves, and who would therefore act as genuine ambassadors for the brand on a day-to-day basis. This approach can also be entirely applicable to our internal brands. We all have a preference for how we'd like our team and the service it delivers to be perceived. Could you define the internal brand of your in-house team? Is there any dissonance between the way you want your team to be seen by the rest of the organisation, and the way they see themselves? If so, what can you do as a leader to address that?

Vision over mission statement, purpose over targets, simplicity over bureaucracy, data analytics over surveys – Anthony Thomson knows what he likes and he knows what he wants. When he was setting up Metro Bank, and also his latest venture, mobile bank Atom Bank, he challenged the trademark holders in both cases and won. On being unreasonable, he says: "Sometimes it's just too easy to see the other person's point of view…". To his lawyers he insists: "Don't tell me that I can't do it. Tell me how I can do it".

He is equally uncompromising about how he spends his time: "Do you believe in what you're doing?" Thomson asked the audience at the event, "because life is just too short. If not, go and do something you believe in." Belief seems to be the key to standing out in crowded, global markets - according to all three of the speakers in the Dissenting Perspectives Series. There is no longer any excuse for a lack of consistent, authentic commitment to client service and to engaging the people within your business. Belief that your product or service is better for your clients' needs than your competitors', and a belief in continuous improvement should be mantras that are as important internally as externally. As Susannah Schofield, OBE said in her earlier talk on client service, truly understanding who your clients are and what they actually need is key. Olympic rowers and gold medallists Ben Hunt-Davis and Andrew Lindsay spoke about marginal gains and continuous improvement at the second evening in the series. What they all agreed upon was that in a competitive environment, in business, as in life,  breaking the mould and getting ahead is as much about about strong belief and clear perspective as anything else. And, in the end, it's all about people.

If you're interested in future events, please get in touch.