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I spent a day at the only bank branch left in Windsor

by Elijah
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It's not going anywhere: Nationwide's Windsor branch will remain open until at least 2026

As of summer 2021, the historic and royal town of Windsor had six bank branches.

Two years later, it was left with just one: Nationwide Building Society was the only branch currently existing to serve a population of 32,000 people.

Barclays and HSBC were the last major banks to close their doors, days in a row in August 2023.

Windsor has a lively main street, helped by the many tourists who flock to the town to see the world-famous castle, and has a slightly older demographic.

Banking and savings reporter Helen Kirrane took a trip to Berkshire and spent a day at Nationwide to see what it’s like to be the only branch in town…

It's not going anywhere: Nationwide's Windsor branch will remain open until at least 2026

It’s not going anywhere: Nationwide’s Windsor branch will remain open until at least 2026

‘When are you closing?’ asked a customer as she withdrew cash at one of the tills at Nationwide Building Society’s Windsor branch.

‘You’re not going to get rid of us that easily’ was the response from the customer service assistant who was helping her.

Nationwide is now the only bank branch serving the city, so no one could blame the curious customer for asking.

The same question was repeated by no less than four visitors over the course of the day I spent at the latest Windsor branch.

Nationwide has a sign at this branch (and many others) that says: ‘If your local bank or building society is closing, why not join us?’ since it promises to keep 605 branches open throughout the country.

Nationwide says the branch now serves about 8,000 people, or a quarter of the local population. Simply put, if you want a current account with a branch and you live locally, Britain’s largest mutual is your only option.

My visit highlighted the importance of branches in a world of app-based banking, which many older and vulnerable customers cannot understand.

For example, face-to-face banking is vital when it comes to fighting growing banking fraud, and also detecting signs of financial abuse. which we highlight below.

All the usual high street names are found in Windsor (M&S, Boots, a Post Office and Greggs), but banks are noticeably absent.

Next to Nationwide is the small Swedish private bank Handelsbanken, but the building society is the last big name standing.

It is home to one of only two ATMs in the city. The other ATM is hidden in a Waitrose branch, which not many people know about, branch staff told me.

It’s not that customers who choose to bank in-branch cannot bank online. But what customers want more than anything if something goes wrong, like fraud, for example, is peace of mind and talking to someone they trust and who knows what they’re doing.

Mondays are the busiest day at the Nationwide branch and this was no exception.

By 11am there was a queue of seven people despite the grey, gray day, with six members of Nationwide staff on hand to help customers with their various banking needs.

Most of the customers who come in are withdrawing or depositing cash but there were also some who opened checking accounts and savings accounts.

Nationwide retail services director Mandy Beech tells me that 30 per cent of Nationwide current accounts are opened in branches.

The range of what customers ask of Nationwide staff ranges from basic deposits or withdrawals to asking questions about fraud and scams to powers of attorney and bereavement.

While I was there, the demand for cash at the last surviving branch of Windsor Bank was such that their ATM had run out of cash, so customers were unable to use it for a few hours until more arrived.

Nationwide ATM usage has seen a 73 per cent increase since it became the city’s last branch, its data shows.

Branch staff are trained in basic budget planning and have been focused on making sure everyone is aware of mortgages and interest rates with the Bank of England’s numerous rate increases over the last two years.

The graphic below shows where branches closed in Windsor.

Barclays, HSBC, NatWest, Lloyds Bank and Halifax are empty, while Metro Bank has become a Mountain Warehouse and Santander has become an Indian restaurant.

Disappearing act: six banks closed their doors in Windsor in two years

Disappearing act: six banks closed their doors in Windsor in two years

Disappearing act: six banks closed their doors in Windsor in two years

Behind the counter I was struck by a question I heard over and over again when customers withdrew cash: “Are you shopping today?” or ‘are you up to something good?’

However, these casual conversation topics can lead to more serious revelations.

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How many bank branches have closed each year since 2019, according to Which?

2019 – 444

2020 – 369

2021 – 735

2022 – 423

2023 – 633

2024 – 41 (of 245 announced)

Emma, ​​who has worked at Nationwide for 39 years, when the mutual only had three savings accounts, has seen a wide range of customers come and go.

He told me the chilling story of an elderly customer who came into the branch to transfer £30,000 from his account to his son’s account, or so he said.

Emma became suspicious because of the way he was acting.

She said: “Sometimes when it comes to clients that you see every day and have built that relationship with, you just know when something isn’t right and you have a feeling.”

When investigated further, it turned out that someone was forcing the customer to transfer the cash and had intimidated him into telling Nationwide staff a false story.

Had it not been for Emma realizing something was wrong, the fraud may have gone undetected and the customer could have lost £30,000 of their savings.

If there was no branch for this type of fraud to take place in person, it would likely be done over the phone and online.

Casey, who has worked at Nationwide for eight years, told me of another occasion when a woman came into the branch and asked to withdraw £4,000 from a Nationwide account.

Notably absent: Windsor's main street is bustling, but lacks banks

Notably absent: Windsor's main street is bustling, but lacks banks

Notably absent: Windsor’s main street is bustling, but lacks banks

She provided a passport, which Casey quickly realized was fake.

Casey said: “I knew something wasn’t right and it was a fake passport, so I tried to buy some time by saying I had to do something in the back.”

When he returned to the counter, the woman was gone. Additional investigation showed that the person was posing as another person who had a legitimate Nationwide account.

Fraud is on the rise

The Windsor branch team has seen an increase in fraud across the board. Many local customers will come into the branch to ask questions about their account if they have received a fraudulent phone call.

As well as being located within a royal town, which sets the Windsor branch apart from other Nationwide branches in the nearest towns of Slough, which is two miles away across the Thames and Maidenhead, five miles away. self, is that the customer base is generally older. .

Slough and Maidenhead have other banks besides Nationwide, including NatWest and Lloyds Bank, but many older customers are not interested in heading to these busier locations.

Emma tells me: ‘A 92-year-old lady recently called crying because she had received a call from someone saying she worked at Nationwide and asking for her bank details.’

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Fortunately, he didn’t give any details to the caller, but he wanted to make sure his money was okay and that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Emma added: ‘It’s not that customers who choose to bank in branch cannot bank online.

“But what customers want more than anything if something goes wrong, such as fraud, is peace of mind and to talk to someone they trust and who knows what they’re doing.”

To help build customers’ confidence in managing their personal finances online, the branch hosts ‘tea and tech’ sessions.

The branch serves vulnerable customers in a way they would not be able to if they were forced to do all their banking online.

There are features that allow branch staff to flag that a customer is vulnerable and might need larger text for forms and documents, for example.

In person, bank staff can also be asked to speak louder for customers with hearing loss, without the customer having to ask or make a fuss.

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I spent a day at the only bank branch left
1709018058 62 I spent a day at the only bank branch left

Spot the difference: A former NatWest lies abandoned with a sign saying ‘This is no longer NatWest Bank’

The Nationwide in Windsor also has a safe space: a room where anyone experiencing domestic abuse can go to use a phone or speak to a member of staff.

There are over 400 of these safe spaces in Nationwide branches across the UK.

Branch staff have received specialist training to spot signs of domestic abuse and offer support to those affected.

What is the future of Nationwide’s Windsor branch?

Nationwide’s Windsor branch will be there at least until 2026, according to the Nationwide branch promise. Wherever there is a Nationwide branch, the mutual will keep it open until at least 2026.

The branch promise has been renewed three times since Nationwide first made it in 2019.

Nationwide has now overtaken the major banks by having the largest branch network on the high street with 605 branches. This is followed by Lloyds with 599 branches and NatWest with 485 branches, CACI data shows.

A member of staff at the Windsor branch said: ‘If I had a pound for every time a customer asked me ‘are you closing?’ He would already have a lot of money.

It is surprising that a town with as high a profile as Windsor has only one bank branch.

The fact is that many smaller towns without Windsor status are losing their banks at a rapid rate.

Data collected by the Link ATM network indicates that, as of May 2022, more than 1,200 branches have closed, or are due to close by the end of next year.

The Branch Promise will help give Windsor customers the security they need that they will have a physical bank branch until 2026, but what happens after that?

Asked if Nationwide is likely to renew the branch promise for a fourth time, a Nationwide spokesperson said: “As long as there is a need for them, we will keep branches open.”

So in Windsor, at least, it’s a matter of “use it or lose it” when it comes to the last remaining bank branch in town.

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