Home Money JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Has Santander found the answer to Britain’s bank closure crisis?

JEFF PRESTRIDGE: Has Santander found the answer to Britain’s bank closure crisis?

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Welcome: A Santander work cafe

Nothing, it seems, will stop the wave of bank branch closures sweeping the country like a huge wave.

Nearly 1,500 branches have been razed (or condemned to death) since the beginning of 2022 and I wouldn’t be surprised if the total exceeds 2,000 by the time the New Year rolls around.

Unfortunately, bricks and mortar and personalized service no longer count for anything in the eyes of those who run our banks.

Welcome: A Santander work cafe

Digitalization (phone or computer banking) is the only way forward. Shocking and discriminatory behavior.

Almost everywhere I go I see evidence of the removal of banks from the main streets.

In my current home town of Wokingham in Berkshire, a notice at the entrance to the Lloyds branch informs passers-by that it will close on 8 July.

It means that since I moved to the city in 2020, it will have lost four banks: Barclays, NatWest, Santander and now Lloyds.

At the moment, only HSBC, building societies Nationwide and Newbury and a post office at the back of a decrepit WHSmith remain.

Protest: The poster from the protest meeting in Stornoway

Protest: The poster from the protest meeting in Stornoway

Meanwhile, my colleague Rachel Rickard Straus has just returned from a glorious journey by train, road or ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

Stopping in the picturesque town of Stornoway, he saw a notice urging residents to attend a meeting about the closure of the TSB branch in September, one of 36 the Spanish-owned bank was planning to close across the country. .

“Enough is enough,” the sign shouted. The atmosphere between clients and councilors has hardly been helped by the branch review published by the bank, which explains its decision (all banks must present these documents when closing a branch).

Stating that TSB customers in Stornoway can use “several other branches”, the only two it mentions are the TSB branches in Inverness and Elgin, just 110 and 147 miles away respectively and both with a ferry crossing.

He also talks of a banking ‘pop-up’ opening in the city, presumably to persuade as many customers as possible to switch to mobile or internet banking.

Branches run in Stornoway by rivals Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Virgin Money (now part of Nationwide) are not mentioned in the review. Mischievous.

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Amid all this doom and gloom, are there crumbs of comfort that personal banking lovers can take advantage of? Some, thank God.

First, Nationwide has committed to maintaining a presence in all towns and cities where it currently has a branch until at least 2028.

This is brilliant, although it raises the question: if Nationwide thinks it can afford to maintain such a large network of branches (605), why can’t its rivals?

Replies by sending me a postcard to 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY, or by email to: jeff.prestridge@mailonsunday.co.uk.

Second, we are seeing the slow rollout of banking centers in communities that have been left without banks.

These centers, funded by major major banks, may provide only basic services, but are run by empathetic staff who care about their clients.

So far, 131 centers have been recommended, although only 41 are operational.

Third, I really like what Santander is doing with a select number of its offices.

Rather than closing them or turning them into soulless places dominated by machines (an approach adopted by rivals), it has transformed key branches in Leeds, London and Milton Keynes into work cafes.

As well as offering banking services (both automated and personal), cafes allow people to come in and buy a coffee and cake, relax or work (free high-speed Wi-Fi is available).

There are even private meeting rooms that can be booked by the hour, which is popular with small businesses and you don’t need to be a customer to use them.

A few days ago, I stopped by the work cafe on the ground floor of the company’s offices in London (near Euston).

It was all quite encouraging, with a buzz not usually found in most bank branches.

It has a real community feel – people working alone on laptops, having coffee with friends or attending meetings in a designated room.

There is a ‘shared card’ facility where people can leave details of their services, from mental health counselors to therapies.

And for those who prefer background music, there is a playlist to choose from.

There are also restrooms for those who overindulge in coffee, served by The Colombian Coffee Company (prices are discounted for Santander customers).

For banking, there are private spaces to speak to a member of staff. The branch has a manager, the friendly Sarah Hicks, who kindly showed me around and told me about the community events taking place in the cafe (a talk, for example, by the Metropolitan Police on local street crime and protection against scammers).

Santander says work cafes will launch later this year in branches in Kensington and Cheapside in London.

Great, but it would be brilliant if the idea really took off and was introduced into the majority of Santander’s 444 UK branches.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but Santander’s work cafes have proven successful in other parts of the world, in Chile and Spain in particular.

And it may be old-fashioned, but banks should really serve the communities from which they draw their customers – and from which they make their profits.

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Get learning: Tools like NatWest Rooster Money and GoHenry are helpful in instilling financial discipline

Get learning: Tools like NatWest Rooster Money and GoHenry are helpful in instilling financial discipline

Arming our children with the knowledge to confidently navigate the financial jungle should be a given, especially in today’s social media-driven world, where children are constantly encouraged to get their parents to buy the latest gadget, regardless of the cost. .

It is a goal that parents can help achieve, although not all parents have sufficient economic knowledge to do an adequate job.

Tools like NatWest Rooster Money and GoHenry are useful for instilling financial discipline and teaching children that money doesn’t grow on trees.

But the key work of financial education must be done in the classroom and as early as possible in the child’s life.

Money habits are formed early and are difficult to change once ingrained.

I therefore fully agree with the recommendation made last week by the Education Select Committee that financial education begins in primary school rather than secondary school.

As the charity The Center for Financial Capability said last week: ‘Our research found that only one in three primary school-aged children receive any form of financial education, despite money habits being formed as early as age seven. .

“The government must implement the committee’s recommendation as soon as possible, to give our young people the best possible opportunity to navigate the complex financial landscape.”

Correct, although I imagine that implementation will now have to wait until the Government is formed after the 4th of July.

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