At noon precisely I observed a one-minute’s reflective silence in my sitting room at home. Why? Because at that moment my local branch of a well-known high street bank was closing its doors to customers for the very last time.
It was particularly poignant for me as I was a manager at that branch when I retired some years ago.
Its closure came as no great surprise to me, and probably not to anyone else in the community. I believe that large financial institutions will close pretty much all their UK branch networks as soon as they can within the next few years.
The reason for the branches closing is exactly what they claim of course – the rapidly decreasing number of customers patronising them. A casual glance inside as you pass by many of them will evidence that.
The institutions will always say that customers now choose to access their products and services online or by phone. But that is so obviously a downright lie. Customers can no longer opt for the preferred face-to-face service they enjoyed for so long because they have been turned away from branches stripped of fundamental resources, primarily the properly trained staff with some management discretion. Many remaining branches are currently capable of delivering little more than basic counter transactions.
So the large banks have actively driven down usage of their outlets in order to close them, because that is their only vision.
However there are some smaller institutions, less driven by maximising huge profits, which thankfully see an alternative future. It is those providers that the community should be supporting in order to keep them open for as long as possible.
There two prime examples here in East Anglia. Firstly, without offering a current account and with no internet presence as such, the Ipswich Building Society relies on its efficient branches and agencies to successfully continue in providing Suffolk with much-needed personal service – and not just for the aged either.
Secondly, the territory of the Nottingham Building Society now extends across several counties and recently they have opened new branches in a number of Norfolk market towns. Founded by a Quaker, it seems the Nottingham has not completely lost sight of its original principles to be a vital part of the local community and actively help its residents.
Perhaps the smaller niche Mutuals have an essential role to play in offering the British public a real choice in how they conduct their financial affairs for the foreseeable future.