By Patrick Strudwick for BuzzFeed
Exclusive: Metro Bank has introduced a third gender option for its customers, after learning of a teenager who couldn’t open a bank account because they didn’t identify as male or female.
A British bank is to become the first to welcome customers who do not identify as male or female, by adding a “nonbinary” gender option in its account application form, along with the title “Mx”, rather than Mr or Mrs/Miss/Ms, BuzzFeed News can reveal.
The decision by Metro Bank, the newest high street bank in the UK, to accommodate nonbinary customers came as a result of an interview given by Scottish teenager Kaelin Farnish to BuzzFeed News earlier this year in which they described their frustration at not being able to open a bank account because they would have to tick either the male or female box in the application.
Farnish, along with fellow nonbinary campaigner Jack Monroe – the writer, chef, and broadcaster – hailed the announcement as a “massive step forward” and called on other banks to follow suit.
From today, customers will have three gender options when they open an account with Metro Bank: male, female, or nonbinary, with the option to use the title Mx, popular among people who don’t identify as male or female.
Some transgender people also identify as nonbinary, and some people who do not subscribe to male or female labels prefer to use the term “agender”. Many also prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns such as they, their, and them rather than he or she.
Danny Harmer, the chief people officer of Metro Bank, told BuzzFeed News how the development came about: “One of the people in my team said to me, ‘Have you seen this article? This teenager struggling to set up an account?’ They sent it to me and said, ‘Can we do something about this?’ And I said, ‘We must be able to.’ So I spoke to the IT guys and said, ‘Can we do anything about enabling people who are nonbinary to open an account with us and not force them to specify or identify with a particular gender?’ And they said, ‘Well yes, I’m sure we can.’”
That conversation triggered several discussions and investigations within the technology department to add another option in both the gender and title categories. “It took some work and some technological changes but the passion with which people wanted to dive in and fix it was magnificent,” said Harmer.
The result, unveiled and available today, also prompted Harmer to issue a message to Kaelin Farnish, who, aged just 17, has reversed 600 years of banking history: “Thank you for sharing your story. It helped us to realise there was a way we could be more inclusive.”
As well as offering these options to customers, the change has been adopted internally so that all employees can list their gender as nonbinary and use the title Mx.
“We understand that how we treat our colleagues is how they treat our customers,” said Harmer. “So if you want colleagues to feel able to welcome customers regardless of gender or sexual orientation you need to do the same thing with your own people.”
Metro Bank opened in 2010, offering private, business, and retail banking – with online, telephone, and app services as well as over 40 branches across London and the South East. Earlier this year it launched an internal LGBT organisation, which encourages dialogue and discussion with heterosexual members of staff, one of whom saw the interview with Farnish.
These new options for customers, however, could be just the beginning. “If customers come in and say, ‘I’m trans and actually I want something else, then we’ll take the feedback and sort it out,” said Harmer. “We thought we’d start somewhere. I think a lot of organisations get tied up in finding reasons not to do things and worrying about how it might be misinterpreted. If people get a bit annoyed with me for getting it 80% right I’ll take that, because I’d rather have it 80% right than not try at all.”
Harmer also sought to highlight the wider experience of people who don’t identify as male or female. “Once you realise this is an issue [you notice that] every single thing you pick up says, ‘Title: Mr or Mrs.’ And then the next question is ‘Gender: male or female.’ And one of the things at Metro is that we try to listen. Sometimes there are issues that are too difficult to do something about, but this one was definitely not one of them.”
The company hopes the change will encourage customers to feel it is a “bank for everyone,” said Harmer, but also get other banks to take notice. “Clearly I hope they’ll follow [suit] but that’s for them. I just wonder how hard, really, it can be. I guess it’s a question of how important is it to them.”
For Farnish, a student at Edinburgh Napier University, the announcement is a major victory, and, they hope, a turning point for organisations to open up more to gender variance issues.
“Considering the bank is going to announce they’re having an option for nonbinary people I think in the wider world it’s going to raise more awareness of nonbinary people in general,” said Farnish. “This is the first time that a big corporation has included nonbinary people and given that as an option, so it is a massive step forward and I’m really happy to see it happen. I hope this sparks something so that gender options and gender choices become less rigid, and maybe it will trigger other banks to change their policies as well.”
Jack Monroe echoed Farnish’s approval and explained why this move is so necessary. “It’s infuriating how much of the world is still seen as split into binary gender, so it’s a really positive step that a new bank is leading the way and carving a new path for traditional banking models,” Monroe told BuzzFeed News.
“It might seem like quite small potatoes to people who are not affected by it, but it can be quite invalidating to come up against a series of daily tick-boxes that tell you that you don’t fit, that you’re not right. It makes such a difference to people who are affected by it.”
Monroe added: “I use the Mx title and people pull me up about it and I say, ‘Why does it bother you so much? Who is it harming?’ Whereas enforced gender binaries do harm people in a very real way. Imagine if there were only two tick boxes for race on a form, or two boxes for name: ‘You can call yourself either Bill or Jane or you can’t bank here’ – people would be in uproar.”
Farnish revealed that the reaction to the original story, which went viral, was vast – but that there was also a significant amount of hostility in the response.
“I was disappointed to see the amount of negativity there was. These people have never met me; all they know is that I want a bank account and they were attacking,” said Farnish. “It was quite strange having people come up to me at parties and in the street saying, ‘Hey, you’re that person that did that article and you got all that hate.’ But I stand by my decision to do it, because the fact it has made this change has made it all worth it.”
First appeared at BuzzFeed