Banking entrepreneur to launch Britain’s first truly digital lender

Anthony Thomson, founder of Metro Bank
Anthony Thomson, founder of Metro Bank
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THE entrepreneur behind Britain’s first new high street bank in more than 150 years has unveiled plans for the nation’s first truly digital bank.

Anthony Thomson has recruited Mark Mullen, the chief executive of Leeds-based First Direct, to lead the new lender, which will be called Atom.

The national retail and business bank will be headquartered in the North East and is expected to open for business in 2015.

Mr Thomson, who launched Metro Bank in 2010, told The Yorkshire Post that Atom will be “the first real alternative to the traditional high street banks”.

He said he has raised enough funding from private investors and institutions to build out the bank.

Mr Thomson added that bank branches have seen a massive decline in footfall; Royal Bank of Scotland and Yorkshire Bank are among lenders to announce branch closures in recent weeks.

Mr Thomson pointed to industry data predicting that within three years 60 per cent of all banking transactions will be on mobile devices.

He said: “The future is digital in general and mobile in particular. Since I had the idea to launch Metro Bank in 2007 the world has just moved on at an incredible pace.”

Mr Thomson added that opening a new bank with branches today would be like BT bringing telephone kiosks back to the high street.

He said: “I am sure there will always be a proportion of the population who use branches, but increasingly I talk to people who say they have not been in a branch for 20 years.

“The reality is that with technology, video windows and instant messaging and voice over internet it is possible to have that relationship and discussion without having to do that in a physical location.

“Just because it uses technology channels to deliver a better service does not mean there is no human being involved.

“First Direct is a brilliant example of that. It was the first remote bank. People love it and love the service they get from it.”

He added that he was very pleased to hire Mr Mullen, who has been at First Direct since 2007 and chief executive since 2011. The bank launched 25 years ago in Leeds.

Mr Thomson said: “I have long been an admirer of First Direct and think it is an excellent bank with the highest customer satisfaction scores of any bank in the UK.

“Mark is passionate about customers and passionate about the people he works with. He was my absolute first choice as the person to lead this bank.”

Mr Thomson said between 3m-5m people will switch bank accounts this year, representing “a massive market for people who are dissatisfied with their existing banks”.

He added: “Most of the big banks trade at a discount to their net asset value because investors believe there is still an awful lot of bad news on their balance sheets. Most of the big banks have real estate they don’t want. I think customers are getting cute to this.”

Mr Thomson said his fundraising will pay for IT, infrastructure, office space and 120 staff to manage the bank and its governance. He declined to disclose the amount raised or the backers, although he said Vernon Hill, the chairman of Metro Bank, is not involved. Atom will produce its own products, he added.

Mr Thomson said the HQ will be in the North East at an as yet undecided location. The region has a very good pool of labour, good value office space and is already home to challenger bank Virgin Money, he said.

Atom has yet to obtain a banking licence. A spokeswoman for the Bank of England declined to comment.

The regulator is processing 20 applications for banking licences at present after introducing new guidelines to make it quicker, easier and cheaper for challenger banks to enter the banking market.

The sector has suffered from a lack of competition in recent years, something the Government and Bank of England are keen to address.

Ministers and regulators believe a lack of competition was a factor in scandals such as the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and complex interest rate hedging products.