60 SECONDS WITH: Vernon Hill, 71, Founder Metro Bank
Vernon Hill, 71, launched Metro Bank in the UK after becoming a billionaire by launching Commerce Bank in the US.
Metro has 41 branches and holds £5.9bn of customers’ savings.
He lives in a mansion in New Jersey with his wife Shirley. They have four children – and a dog.
How did you start in banking?
I’m the son of an estate agent, but worked on the shop floor at small banks while growing up in Virginia. I continued working in them when I was a student. After that I started a property firm, which bought sites for McDonald’s. That taught me how to run a retail business. It was mixing these two business ideas that led me to start Commerce Bank aged 26 in 1973. I wanted to liven up banking. It grew to have 470 branches.
Why did you come to the UK?
I admit I didn’t really know the country. I’d only been to the UK twice before and I had just one British friend at the time. I suppose the real answer is I had nothing else to do, though the UK needed its first new bank in a century.
You let dogs in branches?
I love dogs – they become part of the family. My wife Shirley and I have a Yorkshire terrier called Sir Duffield II. Sir Duffield is part of the business – he’s chief canine officer.
How do you choose where Metro Banks are positioned?
We want the best location, on the best corner, in the strongest towns. I visit every one before they open. We often take the ground floor and the first floor, and knock the ceiling out. We’ve learnt high ceilings really matter. We always make sure there is a grand opening.
What makes Metro different?
We want to foster a shopping atmosphere in our branches, and the aim is to capture some of the magic that makes some brands shine while others fade. Why do women walk past four shoe stores to go the fifth? The ones that get that right win.
How do you go about toppling the big High Street names?
The banks in the UK don’t have good press – although I don’t think they deserve it. They’ve never had any competition. We want to offer an alternative.
Is Metro style over substance?
That’s sort of a British thing: that you can’t have substance and style. You would never hear that phrase in America. No-one has to make that choice.
What’s Different in the UK compared with the US?
We’re running our exact American model here and everything has worked wonderfully apart from one thing.
In America, ATMs are in the foyer where you’re dry, warm and safe. You Brits would rather stand in the cold and the wet, so we’ve refitted some of our machines to put them outside. You like to queue, there’s no question about that.