Sally-Ann James, GC at Metro Bank discusses how banking is really retailing and why the legal services function plays an integral part in making the bank great...

When you think of great customer-focused retail brands, you probably think of the likes of John Lewis and Apple but then you might start to struggle. If you try to think of great customer-focused financial services brands that struggle may well become greater, if not impossible.

Metro Bank was founded by Vernon Hill in 2010 following his incredible success in creating and growing Commerce Bank in the US. Commerce Bank opened its doors in 1973 with just nine employees and by 2007 it was a major American bank, with 440 stores across 6 states and 16,000 colleagues. Its success was based on the simple concept that customers should be the cornerstone of any business; if you treat your customers with the respect they deserve by providing the highest levels of service and convenience, then you’ll turn them into fans of your brand.

Metro Bank is based on the same principles. We are a retail brand that happens to specialise in financial services. Through our unique customer-focused business we are reinventing the rules of retail banking, in order to make things simpler and more convenient for our customers.

It goes without saying that our frontline colleagues are the ‘face’ of our business, but all our colleagues, including myself and the wider legal services team play a key role in ensuring our brand stays great. We may not speak to customers on a daily basis but it is the joint responsibility of every person in the business to protect the brand; refine the brand; and to expand the brand.

Our philosophy is to create ‘fans’ not ‘customers’. This approach is based on the belief that your key differentiator should not come down to just delivering a service; but delivering an amazing service that results in loyalty. By that we mean:-

• Opening hours that suit our customers and making them truly welcome
• Delivering simple and quick processes with no stupid rules
• Employing helpful colleagues who go the extra mile without thinking about it

This also informs how we – the legal services team – operate. We strive to create ‘fans’ of our own internal customers and stakeholders, as well as supporting the philosophy of Metro Bank in creating ‘fans’ of our external customers. Even though we are not directly customer facing, we interact daily with our colleagues who do deal directly with our customers, so, ultimately, a potential ‘fan’ will be impacted by everything we do.

So, the question is... how do we do this? Well, I could say by simply saving money on legal costs, but that would be way too simplistic. It is certainly the case that adding value to the business will involve an element of cost saving or, more likely, cost control – as well as leveraging legal spend to get something back from external advisors, such as providing free legal query helplines or training support. However, what’s more helpful is us being proactive and supporting the objectives of the business at every stage, as this is where we can – and do – create our own true ‘fans’. If you’re seen as reactive then trust and belief become non-existent which ultimately results in apathy... the worst situation to be in.

It may be a generalisation but after 20 years of working in-house, I am well aware that in-house lawyers are often lumped together with our compliance colleagues under the banner ‘Business Prevention Team’. So, a key focus must be to break down this perception. This can be achieved by working proactively to find solutions that result in the right outcome for the business and stakeholders. That process often works better when in-house lawyers work to get the balance right between business outcomes and the legal consequences. You can only really be successful if you truly know your business, its strategy and its key stakeholders. You also need to build relationships internally and get involved in the decision making process at the earliest stage.

At Metro Bank, there’s also an appreciation when we get involved at the ‘coal face’ by volunteering for new store launches, standing front of house and greeting new customers as they walk through the doors for the first time; as well as sharing (but more importantly believing in) the Metro Bank story.

To sum up, this is my template for continuing to grow a first class legal services function for Metro Bank; where the in-house team works closely with our colleagues at all levels in the business; where we build relationships and establish credibility as a go to source of sound and business-focused advice... that is not necessarily just legal.

T: @Metro_Bank