Nationwide boss takes aim at rivals over bank branch closures
The outgoing chief executive of Nationwide Building Society has taken aim at rivals for shuttering swathes of branches around the country, as he doubled down on the firm’s commitment to maintaining its high street presence.
Joe Garner, who revealed he would be stepping down from his role in September last year, said Nationwide was looking for ways to retain its physical footprint at a time when others were rushing to reduce it.
“From time to time, yes, we do close a branch,” he told the Daily Mail.
“But we have shut 5 per cent of branches in an industry that has shut around 30 per cent. The key difference is that many of our competitors are trying to find ways to close branches, while we are trying to find ways of keeping them open.”
Garner said that bank branches provided an important service to customers who are dealing with “difficult, sensitive issues” where face to face contact is “important”.
Some rivals “see branches as a cost, but we see them a place of real value”, he added.
Garner’s comments come as lenders slash their physical presence around the country after a rapid uptake in digital banking services and a sustained slide in cash usage spurred on by the pandemic.
The monthly closure rate of bank branches doubled during the pandemic, resulting in the disappearance of over 4,000 branches between March 2020 and October 2021, a February report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found.
Lloyds Banking Group was among the latest lenders to reveal a swathe of planned branch cuts, when it announced earlier this month that 20 Lloyds and eight Halifax branches would be shuttered between August and November this year.
The slide in presence has sparked fears over access to cash around the country and the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, will be granted fresh powers to protect cash access, the government announced earlier this month.
Ministers are now set to reveal legislation that will allow the Treasury to specify which banks and building societies the FCA’s powers will apply to, in order to ensure continued access to cash across the UK.