Blog article
See all stories »

f!?kberks

That was the verdict of comedian Al Murray, on Twitter, when Metro Bank made a song-and-dance to celebrate the opening of its 12th branch this weekend in Chiswick.

'I have actually crossed the road to avoid the toe curling god awful pisspoor balloon waving music blaring launch of my local Metro bank' said Murray on Friday before sharing a picture that shows balloons and music are the least of it - there were also manicures and dog acts. 'I love it when cretins treat the rest of us like morons'.

And then we were treated to the ingenious sweary epithet (apologies to any sensitive types for the language but I'm assuming Finextra's readership doesn't include too many children):

'It's banking you fuckberks it's meant to be boring and serious' followed by an invitation to use the hashtag #fuckberks.

The colourful language is secondary though, the important point is that banks should be 'boring and serious'.

Funnily enough, when it became the first new high street player to enter the UK market for more than 100 years by opening its first branch (it calls them 'stores') in 2010, Metro portrayed itself as a sober, old-fashioned deposit-based lender offering superior customer service for a public furious with the risky practices of established banks that caused so much damage in 2008.

But trying to build up a business from scratch to take on some of the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world is difficult. Metro couldn't resist a bit of gimmickry, most notably its free in-store dog treats. Who knows, maybe this kind of thing does attract customers but it also invites ridicule and nearly every response to Murray's blast agreed with his assessment.

One of my first feelings on seeing the #fuckberks hashtag was sympathy for the bank's PR people (not something, as a reporter, I'm accustomed to). A few months ago I tweeted a link to an FT story revealing Metro had issued just 100 mortgages. Within minutes a flack was on the phone assuring me that the bank was in great shape. If they were worried enough to call me over a tweet to my meagre following, I can only imagine the blind panic induced by a sustained attack from a man with 155,000-odd followers, almost certainly more people than it can count as customers.

There's been no mention of #fuckberk-gate from the @Metro_Bank account. I assume that someone has decided to bury their head in the sand and hope that the Pub Landlord and his followers move on.

This could prove dangerous. As we reported this morning, HSBC has been tweeting busily in a bid to placate disgruntled customers after an IT glitch. It now takes a proactive approach after an earlier outage laid bare the reputational damage risked by ignoring online criticism.

Of course Metro’s situation is different (dealing with people who are already customers and being able to provide them with useful updates is easier than countering general mockery) but the fact that HSBC recognises the importance of a positive online image makes clear the dangers to its upstart rival. The last thing a bank wants to be is a figure of fun, especially when it is still so young and trying to attract new, rather than just retaining current, customers.

Maybe Metro will get lucky - after another couple of tweets mocking it on Saturday, by Sunday Murray had appropriated #fuckberks for a rant at Vue cinemas.

I doubt he'll be opening a Metro account any-time soon though and many will agree with him that banks should concentrate on ‘boring and serious’ stuff and leave the dog acts to Britain's Got Talent.

Update: Metro Bank called. Apparently the launch was a great success and I should come along to the next one to see for myself. Perhaps a free manicure will banish any doubts.

Update 2: Frances Deighton from PR firm Clear has written a response.

5352

Comments: (1)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 22 May, 2012, 09:14Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

As they say, no such thing as bad publicity?