Metro Bank: Jean Baudrillard’s Wet Dream

After passing through the plate glass doors, I was stepped onto glossy white tiles interspersed with a grid of isolated black ones. Around me were polished steel and red neon tubing. On flat-screen behind the counter, a smiling stock photo of a call-centre worker was captioned with  ‘Real Answers from Real People! [my emphases]’ As I sat down to wait to open an account, I noticed the anodyne piped pop music playing in the background.

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Nothing like the demure and bland English high-street banks I’m used to, this building bellowed ‘I’m American!’, in loud red, white and blue graphics. I gazed around in amused fascination, wondering how this aesthetic could belong to a bank that hadn’t yet fallen to corporate sleaze – one that wasn’t yet too big to fail.

The sceptic in me suspects that the bank’s favourable ratings with Ethical Consumer and  Move Your Money are simply because they have a clean rap sheet. They haven’t had time to invest in the arms trade, evade taxes and mistreat their customers, let alone be bailed out by the state and continue to do so.

I put in my earphones to block out the Muzak. ‘All my senses rebel!’ Brendan Parry’s voice solemnly proclaims. I’ve walled myself off to the extend that the man just who sat down next to me is seen first. I shrug.

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A retouched photograph of what the site of the bank 100 years ago was printed onto a large backlit canvas. The colours are vivid and artificial, in a sense aiming to be more real than those of the original scene.

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‘Dogs rule’ read another poster. Pictured in this one is Metro Bank founder Vernon Hill’s dog Sir Duffield. This no-doubt expensive canine-friendly branding exercise seems to be Hill’s personal whim.

All of the branding makes more sense when you view it as a manifestation of the aesthetic sensibilities of a man who cut his teeth developing properties for McDonald’s. He already has the successful American Commerce bank behind him and he hasn’t altered his fast-food retail strategy of long hours and smiling mascots a great deal for the UK.

I hope the fast-food analogy doesn’t run too deep.

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