Branches come and go, but poor customer service persists

Business banking news review: week ending 15 Aug 2013

The state of the UK personal and business banking system is in a shambles – banks are re-branding or shuttering branches left and right, but will this help?

In a move that may seem a positive one on the outside, work progresses on the 600-odd Lloyds TSB branches that are being spun-off and re-branded as simply TSB bank. There are some five million Lloyds customers that are being switched over on 9 September in order to comply with EU competition rulings, and the new TSB website will be available for perusal this week thanks to a £30 million re-branding budget.

For what it’s worth, I still remember when Lloyds gobbled up TSB back in 1995. Plenty of consumers might feel that it will be nice to see TSB up and running on its own and off the Lloyds leash, but let’s not forget that Lloyds will be running the “new” bank well into 2014, which is when scuttlebutt says TSB will be spun off into its own entity, so until then it’s really just another wolf in sheep’s clothing until that occurs. Sure, TSB will be headed up by Paul Pester, the man behind Virgin Money’s UK launch, and that bodes well – but all this talk of how TSB is going to be ‘customer-centric’ sounds like so much bollocks to me – I’ll believe it when I see it!

Meanwhile, the number of branches that are available to Brits has gone down by a sizable margin since the days of the credit crunch, according to a new report released recently. Nearly 560 branches have shuttered their doors over the last half decade, and economic experts have been reading the writing on the wall when it comes to High Street banks eventually reducing the number of active branches even further.

It costs loads of money to keep a branch open, and most banks would much rather have customers do their banking by ringing up a call centre or just logging in to their online banking portals instead. Of course this completely leaves off the hundreds of communities that are in danger of losing the only remaining branches that service their region, and it leaves people such as those coping with mobility issues or the elderly in dire straits – have you ever tried to explain the internet to your grandmum? It’s like performing dentistry on an angry tiger with nothing but a pair of short-handled pliers.

‘So what?’ you might be saying. ‘There can’t be that many people that would be affected.’ Well, guess again – according to the Campaign for Community Banking, there are nearly 890 communities that would be left without access to banking if the last branch in their area closed down. An additional 444 are clinging on to the last two branches in their communities; that’s a lot of people that could very easily end up stranded! So much for customer centric approaches, eh?

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