What do you say about a bank where two of its three core values are “Amaze and Delight Every Customer” and “Exceed Customer Expectations….Every Customer, Every Time”? You say it’s Republic Bank, the new kid on the block in South Jersey, offering “big bank” benefits with a small town feel.
Republic Bank is the latest retail banking brainchild of Vernon Hill, the American billionaire who founded Commerce Bank (in Cherry Hill, NJ) in 1973 with a single branch, and turned it into the 18th largest bank in the country. Commerce became known as “America’s Most Convenient Bank” before being sold to TD Bank in 2007. Like Commerce, Republic is a retail-based model based on convenience, innovation, brand-building, and fanatical customer service. Hill made certain that, at Republic, pleasing customers and turning them into advocates and fans would be at the top of the new concept’s strategic list of objectives.
Observers of the Republic Bank’s early initiatives are certain it will succeed. Why? It fills a need, for both individual customers and small businesses, between what big brand banks and smaller, local community banks offer: As one local businessman commented: “I think there a lot of big banks out there and a lot of local banks. I expect Republic to fill that gap in the middle. There are many businesses that want the regional capability of a bank but don’t want to deal with the big banks because they strive for more personal service.”
Convenience at Republic Bank is not just given lip service. Branches, again like Commerce, are called ‘stores’; and they have a very open and welcoming exterior and interior design, a decidedly un-bank feel. Their approaches to making banking easier for customers, and getting to know customers on an individual and more personalized way, actually represent the third of their core values. They include:
• Open 7 days a week
• Open early, open late
• Free personal checking
• Free business checking
• Free coin counting (to non-customers, too)
• ATM/debit cards “on the spot”
• Free Visa gift cards
• Never an ATM fee
A Republic executive has noted the reasons for the bank’s rush of new accounts, beginning with the perspective that basic, efficient banking continues to be in demand: “People want to go back to Commerce’s heyday: free checking, free ATMs, the atrium entranceway, people coming in with their dogs.” Small-business borrowing, he added, has been “growing like crazy”.
Hill has been reprising this highly successful concept on two continents, and his entrepreneurial efforts have been enjoying a good deal of recognition. In London, Hill’s Metro Bank now has 26 “stores”, with close to 320,000 customers. They’re a small, but growing and public, presence.
Hill believes that branch interactions are the key to building positive customer relations. He has summarized what he sees as Metro’s formula to attract customers in the U.K.: “The British banks have a philosophy that they’re doing you a favor by letting you bank with them. We have a philosophy that you’re doing us a favor by banking with us.” In addition to offering convenience elements similar to those of Republic Bank in the U.S., what further distinguishes Metro are some of the little touches – free lollipops on the counter for the kids, and water bowls for customers’ dogs.
As Hill has noted: “There are always some economic case studies that prove cutting costs or raising fees makes sense. But there’s never been one that says being nice to dogs or being open seven days a week makes sense. It’s about building fans of your service, not customers. Great companies build fans who become loyal, remain loyal, and bring their friends.”
Hill has stated that Metro’s obsessive focus on service and value are key strategic differentiators. As one U.K. customer said: “It’s a great idea that a bank is prepared to provide service for once. Metro will succeed simply because, after years of complacency, the British public is sick of being used and abused by business and government.” This is a sentiment to which customers in the U.S. can also relate, and good reason for them to actively consider Metro Bank or Republic Bank, – and bringing their kids, dogs, and friends.
Michael – can we persuade Vernon Hill (founder of Commerce Bank and now Republic) to open up bank after bank? He’s aces in my book, but one serial bank founder doesn’t fill the void.