Last year Nationwide surprised many by saying it still had plans to open branches, despite its rivals closing many of theirs. They opened a new branch in Glastonbury—a town where Barclays and Lloyds had closed branches—and said they would consider putting branches in other towns abandoned by the banking giants.
At the time Graeme Hughes, distribution director at Nationwide, said:
“We know how important having a range of ways to do business with your financial services provider is. Our commitment to our branch network has never been stronger and we will continue to invest £500 million over a five-year period.”
This was good news, not just for consumers, but also for small businesses. Many small businesses still need a bank branch close by, and banks bring people and their spending power into high streets where so many small businesses are situated, also provide a place for consumers to withdraw cash at a time when ATMs are rapidly disappearing.
Now Nationwide has pledged to keep all its current branches open for at least two years—and its changing people’s expectations of their local branch, too.
A commitment to community
The firm, which has around 650 branches, said this will apply until May 2021 whether there are rival banks and building societies situated there or not, and hopes it will reassure consumers that their local shopping centres will not be left without branches.
The move forms part of Nationwide’s support of communities, which includes allocating £22 million of funding over five years to help local housing issues, pledging to serve small businesses by entering the business banking market, and an ambitious £50 million project to build more than 230 new homes in Swindon (the Society’s base), with any profit to be reinvested back into communities.
The firm said a bank or building society branch often acts as a bellwether for the health of a high street and can be a catalyst for growth or decline.
Nationwide referred to figures from the Centre of Retail Research that predict around 10,000 shops will close over the course of 2019, and said it feels the closure of bank branches in high streets can be a catalyst for their decline.
“Healthy high streets are vital in keeping local communities alive”, said Joe Garner, Chief Executive of Nationwide Building Society.
“But in many cases they have become almost uniquely transactional, despite consumer behaviour highlighting that people increasingly want to relax and enjoy themselves when out shopping. We need to rediscover the sense of belonging that has served communities for centuries and as businesses we need to open our doors to people and not just customers.”
With that in mind, creating a sense of community has been key to the new design of its branches. Nationwide’s ongoing £350 million 5-year commitment (of which they expect to spend £80 million this year) is being used to ensure its branches remain relevant to the needs of people, from introducing high-definition video and iPads to creating areas where members can chat, read a newspaper or have a coffee.
“It’s not good enough that we succumb to the perceived inevitable and watch our local shopping centres fade away,” said Joe Garner.
“We owe it to our communities to make ourselves relevant again.”
Nationwide said it will still close branches where it makes sense to do so, for example where two outlets are near each other and could better serve members if they were combined and received additional investment. It will also be working with like-minded organisations to explore what can be done to help communities thrive.
Mr Garner added:
“As a mutual we exist to serve the needs of our members and we are driven by that purpose.
“Even with the latest technology, members appreciate being able to visit a building and meet with real people who can help them with their financial affairs or even just listen.”
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A content writer specialising in business, finance, software, and beyond. I'm a wordsmith with a penchant for puns and making complex subjects accessible. Learn more about Elizabeth.