Nationwide Building Society pledges to retain branches

Nationwide Building Society has pledged to retain a branch in any town or city where it currently has a presence for at least two years.

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.

The commitment has come at a time when concerns over people’s continued access to cash have been heightened by branch and ATM closures.

Nationwide said it hopes the assurance will give consumers confidence their local shopping centres will not be left without branches.

It said it has been made the commitment as far ahead in the future as is possible given Nationwide’s scale and the fact it is not immune to major shifts in consumer behaviour.

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.

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, with any profit to be reinvested back into communities.

Nationwide pointed to figures from the Centre of Retail Research suggesting an estimated 10,000 shops are expected to close over the course of 2019.

Joe Garner, chief executive of Nationwide Building Society, said: “Healthy high streets are vital in keeping local communities alive.

“They are a major part of our history and identity – a space where we come together.

“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.

“It’s not good enough that we succumb to the perceived inevitable and watch our local shopping centres fade away.

“We owe it to our communities to make ourselves relevant again.”

Nationwide is committed to spending £350 million over five years – £80 million this year alone – 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 said creating a sense of community in the branch has been key to the new design.

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.

The society said it will 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.

“Our members tell us they want digital convenience and a human touch.

“That’s why we are both investing in technology and making this promise to maintain our branches.

“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.”