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Mettle boss takes on challengers with ‘drastically different’ aims

The boss of NatWest’s new digital business bank Mettle has vowed a “drastically different” service that will focus relentlessly on the customer as the lender steps up its fight against the challengers.

Mettle’s recently hired chief executive Marieke Flament – the former European managing director of cryptocurrency firm Circle – is ramping up the roll-out of the brand after it went live on the app store in August.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Ms Flament said Mettle has a “genuine passion for customers” that she hopes will set it apart from rivals as RBS-owned NatWest looks to take on others in the SME banking space, such as Tide and Starling.

It also comes as RBS seeks to move on from the long-running scandal involving its treatment of small firms that knocked its reputation in the SME sector.

Marieke Flament is chief executive of Mettle (Mettle/PA)
Marieke Flament is chief executive of Mettle (Mettle/PA)

The group has been hauled over the coals after its controversial Global Restructuring Group division was accused of pushing some firms into bankruptcy and stripping their assets from 2008 to 2013.

Ms Flament said Mettle is not an effort to distance the group from the saga, but deliver a service its customers want and need.

She said: “It’s a recognition that we need to do things drastically differently.

“Customers need a fully digital proposition – it’s now an expectation.”

NatWest first launched Mettle as a trial a year ago, becoming the first high street player to offer an app-based digital bank for small firms in the UK.

It was originally spearheaded by RBS’s new chief executive Alison Rose, with Ms Flament brought on board a month-and-a-half ago to lead its roll-out.

It is also one of a number of digital initiatives from NatWest, which has also launched a new mobile phone-only bank for individuals, called Bo.

Unlike traditional business bank accounts, Mettle offers free banking services, including managing invoices and book-keeping.

It also allows firms to open an account potentially within minutes, or up to two days at the most, compared with six to eight weeks for traditional bank accounts.

She said: “Customers today want something different – customers today are different.

“More and more people are becoming sole traders and freelancers and… we need products to serve these people better.”

In keeping with its digital proposition, Mettle is run more like a technology start-up – it is based in WeWork offices, not far from NatWest’s headquarters in the City.

Ms Flament currently heads a team of around 90, but said she is hiring amid aims to nearly double the workforce within the next year.

But the brand will have its work cut out for it, given the increasing competition.

High street banking rival HSBC unveiled its digital business bank, called Kinetic, earlier this month with aims for a full launch in 2020.

Initially free, it is understood Kinetic may levy charges once its goes fully public.

Ms Flament said Mettle will remain fee-free for customers, but is set to offer paid-for additional services in future.

These are likely to include billing propositions, loans, cash advances and human resources services, some of which may be offered in partnership with other firms.

For Ms Flament, Mettle has been a natural fit, given its start-up feel, though she admitted she was initially unsure about the job.

“The first time I was called for the role, I said I couldn’t work for such a large organisation,” she said.

“Then I went to the WeWork offices and thought, ‘This is something I can do’.”