RBS’ new digital business bank could collaborate with its standalone lending platform Esme.
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) threw its weight into the digital business banking market last week, with the launch of a new digital app-bank named Mettle.
The standalone service will offer a current account alongside add-on features like invoicing and cash-flow forecasting.
Speaking with The Financial Times, RBS’ head of commercial and private banking Alison Rose said that figuring out how to shift from physical to digital is the ‘main challenge facing all banks right now’.
For its own shift, RBS turned to challenger consultancy 11:FS. The firm, known for its well-followed fintech podcasts, recently made a splash with the launch of Foundry – a banking-as-a-service product. But at its core it remains a consultancy targeting large incumbents on the path to digitisation.
11:FS had a hand in every part of the Mettle project, from its initial conception to front and back-end engineering. The consultancy’s founder and CEO, David Brear, said in an interview with AltFi that the purpose of Mettle was to offer ‘forward-looking business banking’.
Through the use of cash-flow forecasting technology, Mettle will aim to empower its customers to make better business decisions. “The more we can keep people better informed, the better decisions they can make on a day-to-day basis,” said Brear.
It’s something of a common goal across the fintech sector’s business banks at present. This week alone we’ve seen cashflow-focused SaaS firm Fluidly close a £5m Series A fundraise, while both Starling Bank and TransferWise have integrated their business accounts with accounting software Xero.
Mettle might be seen as an attempt by RBS to fend off such upstarts. Indeed, Brear told AltFi that the standalone app will first target ‘new customers’ for the bank – those that haven’t necessarily been well-served to date.
“Being able to have a 4 to 5-minute account opening process is kind of mission number one,” he said. But where Mettle starts is not necessarily where it will end. Brear referred to these early stages of the app’s life as its ‘beachhead’. That term would suggest an aggressive expansion of its activities in the future.
It would be nothing new for RBS. We learned in May that the bank would be scaling its standalone business lending platform Esme significantly in 2018, following a successful pilot phase. In fact, the expansion of both Esme and Mettle could go hand-in-hand. Brear spoke to us of the ‘potential to maximise the opportunity’ presented by tie-ups between the two RBS initiatives. It would seem a natural step for a business bank account focused on forecasting cashflows to offer a financing solution for plugging any anticipated gaps.
What should the nascent fintech sector – which Brear knows very well – make of the likes of Mettle and other bank-owned platforms? Brear says Mettle is clear evidence of two things: that big banks can make these things happen, but more importantly that they’re ‘not going to just roll over’.
Asked about what the future holds for Mettle, he said that nothing is off the table – including the possibility of an in-app marketplace of third-party products – but all will depend on how the bank feels it is best able to serve its customers' needs.
Brear said that the Mettle proposition will be developed ‘with customers rather than at customers’. Exactly what those customers demand in an increasingly competitive digital banking market could take RBS in strange new directions.
Now in its sixth year, the AltFi London Summit returns on 18th March 2019 to 155 Bishopsgate. Last year proved to be a crucial turning point for the key players building the future of finance. Leading platforms launched oversubscribed IPOs, digital banks proliferated and mainstream financial institutions started their own disruptive propositions. With 2019 certain to be another landmark year, more questions will be asked by regulators with investor interest in disruption also poised for more rapid growth.