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October 8, 2010

New UK bank uses cloud infrastructure

A new entrant to the British High St banking market has decide to not just outsource all its IT, but to run it as a virtualised operation, too, says Gary Flood

By Cbr Rolling Blog

When an interesting bank does something interesting… you get my drift. Hence I’d like to draw your attention to the news that a new entrant to the British High St banking market has decide to not just outsource all its IT, but to run it as a virtualised operation, too.

Anyone familiar with the regular UK banking IT scene – especially at the ‘Tier 1’ end (in this market, a Barclays would be a Tier 1, your local shire building society would be a Tier 3 or 4, see) – will have spluttered out their coffee by now. No-one outsources everything in banking: the bank’s IT assets are deemed too central.

But they are less worried about following that ‘rule’ in the US and the bank in question – Metro – is very consciously challenging our accepted way of doing things here, so such iconoclasm is consistent with that philosophy anyway.

If you’re not familiar with the brand yet, Metro, which opened its first branches in July and which claims to be the first wholly new High St bank entrant the UK’s seen for a century, aims to be different – an approach summed up by the slogan, No stupid fees, no stupid hours. So you get to bank more like you shop (doors are open 8am to 8pm on Mondays to Fridays, 8am to 6pm on Saturdays and 11am to 4pm on Sundays), instant issue of cards when you get signed up as a customer, a free coin counting machines for both customers and non-customers, lollipops and dog biscuits in the lobby and so on.

The idea is to replicate the shopping/customer service ethos the bank’s founder Vernon W. Hill developed with Commerce Bank, which the PR will tell you grew into one of the biggest US retail banks. And the venture has been well received by a guy I rate who is a well-known financial commentator, Chris Skinner, who’s written a lot about its potential as a disruptive influence in the UK market on his blog (which is well worth following).

So then its decision to put all banking ICT into the hands of an integrator called Niu – with its Craig Donaldson, CEO of Metro Bank, claiming as motivation, "We wanted a provider who could do everything, so our people can focus on the customers" – follows the same pattern.

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Niu (which was recently created from a merger of four specialist smaller firms in areas like hosting and IP telephony, including Telinet and Ipitomi) will now manage all Metro Bank’s WAN and LANs with IT operations run from its data centre so that terminals and security will be the only services which operate in-branch.

That means the bank pays only a cost price for all hardware up front, but adds an incremental cost per user as the bank grows – in effect a pay-as-you-go service. Cloud banking, anyone?

Application integration was apparently the biggest challenge, with 24 applications being combined to form the outsourced banking platform and indeed Metro is the first proper customer for all four of the operating entities that have merged to form the integrator.

But it seems to have worked and this experiment will I am sure get a lot of attention from both followers of virtualised services, outsourcing – and banking in general.

Because if these upstarts can do this, why can’t anyone else – with potential cost savings and service improvement benefits we might all like to start seeing as retail banking customers?

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