The children responded excitedly to the news that Metro Bank would be paying them a visit, in the same way they respond excitedly to any news, from "It's raining," to "It's Tuesday". I was less enthused. As a teaching assistant working in one of the most deprived areas of London, it was hard to imagine what Metro Bank would have to offer to get them engaged and interested about the world of finance.
Like many, I had reacted with bemusement when Metro Bank hit the high street in 2010, the first bank to do so in over 100 years. Its giant red M had left little impact on me and I was surprised so many of children seemed to recognise it when our visitors finally arrived. "What's our colours?" cried the smiling Metro Bank ladies as a way of greeting. I took shelter as thirty eight year olds unleashed a deafening cry of, "Reeeeeeeed".
Once a week the ladies from Metro Bank came for an hour to teach the children about money; where it came from, what it was for and what to do with it. The sessions were informative and fun, so much so I soon realised that the fact Metro Bank's logo looks like it had been drawn by an eight year old was a pretty clever move. And yet it was only when we reached the culmination of our sessions - with a trip to flagship Holborn branch - that I realised the lengths that Metro Bank has gone to in targeting their audience, for it is here that I met Metro Man.
Meeting Metro Man
Having never been inside Metro Bank's doors, our first exciting surprise came when our tour guide held up a plate of dog biscuits and informed us they are the only bank that allows pets. A hushed awe came over the children as they heard this. In their minds, pets are good, pets are awesome, and this bank likes pets and that is even awesomer, and if you don't like pets then you are not awesome and I don't want to know you. That day, we were also introduced to the Magic Money machine that counts your coins and offers you a prize if you guess the amount correctly, like stickers or lip balm, and that, according to the kids, was pretty awesome too.
The children were busy with activities such as matching money definitions to their meanings when they were told Metro Man would be arriving. The meaning of words like "budget" and "transaction" were quickly forgotten in the excitement of demanding "Metro Man" at the top of their voices. When he finally appeared, a reluctant work experience kid keenly hidden inside a giant foam M wearing a large grin and baseball cap, a practical stampede ensued as the children clambered to be close to him.
As far as mascots go, he was a hit. He did a funky dance and posed for pictures and, best of all, he handed out goody bags. On the way back to school, the children were practically hyperventilating about the contents inside. There was not one, not two, but three bright red lolly pops, and a mass of things like extendable rulers and wristbands all adorned in the Metro logo.
Most popular was the giant M piggy bank that some of the children were eagerly pouring pennies into before we had even got off the train. By the time we arrived back to school, the children were eager to inform other less fortunate souls of their amazing trip to Metro Bank.
"Happy Meal" Strategy
For UK banks this "Happy Meal" strategy of targeting children is nothing new. I fondly remember signing up for a Natwest account aged about twelve with the promise of a new CD of my choice for my custom (I picked Destiny's Child). And yet what is fascinating here is the sheer amount of energy and investment Metro Bank has displayed in catering for its young audience.
And why not? According to the website thisismoney.co.uk, just one in six of us will consider changing our current account holders in 2014. Metro Bank are playing the long game. As adults, we might not be willing to switch but there's a whole new fresh crop of adults coming and they're ripe for the picking.
With its glass walls, one gets a real sense of the desire from Metro Bank to stand out from other more established firms as a beacon of transparency, a bank you can trust in a backdrop of greed that has seen Labour leader Ed Milliband claim a need for the oligopoly of the big five high street institutions to be broken up.
According to its website, Metro Bank's total assets grew 145% over 2013, and the company now plans to expand from it's current 25 franchises to have 200 by 2020. With its eyes clearly set on the future generation of customers, we could be on the horizon of what its American owner and founder Vernon Hill claims is, "a banking revolution".
Rebecca Hussein is a teaching assistant at an inner city London school. Her blog can be found here: http://rebeccahussein.com/