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Helping high streets thrive: Nationwide pledge to keep branches open

Tanya Joseph | Nationwide

4 min read Partner content

Nationwide understand the importance of branches to the high street and promise that every town or city with a Nationwide branch today will still have one in May 2021.

At Nationwide Building Society, we understand how much our branches are valued by our members; they are at the heart of what we do. That is why we are making a clear commitment to our branch network. We promise that every town or city with a Nationwide branch today will still have one in May 2021.

We have made this promise as we understand the importance of branches to the high street. There is no doubt that the high street is currently going through a period of upheaval; we hear constantly of store closures, persistently empty shops and declining footfall. But the high street is more than a place you shop. It is a place to socialise. It’s your neighbours and your community.

Building societies and banks have a key role to play, not just in offering banking services, but also as a part of the social fabric of the high street. Nationwide data shows a clear correlation between the health of a high street and the local contribution of a branch due to increased footfall and transactions. Importantly, our branches could be the only human contact a person has in a day, or a place where someone can  talk face-to-face regarding their finances, which can be especially important if they have a concern or worry.  That is why we’re spending £80 million on improving our branches over the next 12 months to make sure they are relevant to the people who use them.

This can range from high-definition video to make it easier for customers to get the financial help and advice they need sooner, to creating areas where members can chat, read a newspaper and have a coffee.

Being able to speak to someone in branch is also a key tool in tackling fraud. This happened in the case of a longstanding member, Arthur, who asked to withdraw an unusually large amount of cash. He claimed, with conviction, that he needed to pay builders for work on his front drive. A story he stuck to when gently challenged by Nationwide staff. Being well known to the branch, a couple of the team drove past his house to look for signs of this building work and discovered there was no sign of any work. Arthur returned to the branch the next day, asking to make a further transfer. When our team sensitively questioned the request, Arthur broke down in tears and explained that he was being coerced by a gang, who were waiting outside, to make these payments. As soon as the branch team heard the full story they called the police and arrests were made. Arthur’s story is one that reminds us of the powerful role that branches play in their communities. In this case, the scam might never have come to light if Arthur was just transferring money over the internet.

Although we will continue to invest in the high street we recognise that there may be the rare occasion when we will need to close a branch. Typically, this will be when a lease has expired or where when we have two or more branches in very close proximity, and we can make better use of member money by bringing the branches together under one roof. We also know that just being present on the high street isn’t enough and we want to go further. We want to work with likeminded organisations from across local government, the public, private and third sector to explore what actions we can support to help high streets thrive. We strongly believe there is nothing inevitable about a declining high street.

Innovation and technological development shouldn’t mean the loss of community. Instead, we should leverage the opportunities these provide to reinvigorate the high street, creating new, healthier, social spaces with the power to bring people together. Nationwide is determined to be at the forefront of this change.

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