NatWest desert Woodstock part two: originally it was concerning, now it’s embarrassing

NatWest plan to exit Woodstock on 28th May 2014. This is when they will literally skulk out of the community on the quiet and when they do so they will be:

  • deserting their customers – residential and business
  • deserting the entire community – the town and the large catchment area
  • deserting their shareholders – although they would have them believe the opposite
  • deserting any semblance of following their own social responsibility goals
  • and quite literally deserting their senses.

One of my favourite quotes from a business person far more successful than those involved with The RBS Group, “focus on your people, more than your profits”, sums up the folly of this decision that originally I found deeply concerning and now I think is simply embarrassing, not only for the company, but for our government too. This decision is driven simply by profit, without any consideration for any of its people – from their staff all the way through to every UK resident. Remember, we bailed the bank out. We have a major interest in that bank returning to profit so we can recover what we put into it as a nation – however, this blinkered decision does not speed this process as NatWest would have us believe. This investment in profit rather than people will not make the bank more money.

Quite simply, NatWest leaving Woodstock will cost us money.

There are examples across the planet that community can achieve anything it chooses. What about banking? Absolutely zero doubt about it. I chose the most obvious example – from an English speaking nation to keep it really simple – where a bank has reinvented itself to be able to play a role in the community. I mean every different community in which it exists, which means many different communities. That is a really big clue for the banks of the UK – contrary to their belief – that one size does not fit all.

Bendigo Bank: not a new challenger bank, but one with roots that go back 150 years. You can check out this Australian success story here, where they explain what being “bigger than a bank means”: 

https://www.bendigobank.com.au/public/community/bigger-than-a-bank

What struck me was this concept that would surely seem so obvious to all those communities that have lost their banks, or are in the process of losing them, and yet seems so alien to the thinking of those that have the power to influence this very type of development in the UK: 

“Community Bank® branches provide communities with more than just quality banking services – they deliver employment opportunities for local people, keep local capital in the community, are a local investment option for shareholders and provide a source of revenue for important community projects determined by the local community.”

This is just one flavour of banking that Bendigo has evolved for the benefit of the diverse communities in which their customers are situated. Clever isn’t it? Clearly just a tad too clever for those fine UK institutions that would have us believe that they are all about community and yet make decisions from Head Office that have no consideration of what is occurring for local people. Bendigo Bank have a different way of looking at things: “Community Bank is unapologetically parochial in it’s endeavours”. 

It is time for Woodstock to take centre stage in highlighting something that was deeply concerning and now is fast becoming extremely embarrassing…what do you think? 

chris@community-buying.com

Who said anything about “don’t panic”…we should all be going Clive Dunn

Captain Mainwaring This is what our banks need, according to our Chancellor, George Osborne, no not a pompous buffoon of a bank manager, but a return to face-to-face banking where a respected manager has their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the community in which their customers live and work. Mr Osborne was addressing the most influential organisation representing small businesses in the UK – The Federation of Small Businesses.

On the face of it this sounds like a jolly good idea don’t you think? Only one minor flaw in the plan Mr Osborne, where are these face-to-face encounters going to take place, given the pulse of many communities is beating with the news that they are being deserted by the banks themselves? To compound the problem with your grand plan, your own government isn’t doing anything to bring an end to this irresponsible behaviour either. So much for Corporate Social Responsibility, eh? In fact, Mr Osborne, rather like Twirling Magnet in this year’s Grand National, you yourself have fallen at the first.

Dad’s Army was set in the fictional town of Warmington-on-Sea, and the chances are Captain Mainwaring’s bank would itself probably have been closed by now. You see ironically another somewhere-on-sea found out last month that it is losing a bank, its NatWest branch, that’s the rather affluent town of Highcliffe-on-Sea. How do I know? The Area Director chose to write and tell me. This is rather strange as my accounts are held in a branch about 100 miles away and I have only EVER stepped foot in his branch once. So I am guessing that this is less likely to be a personal service for me to plan my banking for any future short breaks in Dorset and more likely to be a sign that the bank is just a tad shambolic. Well they seem to be very busy closing branches here, there and everywhere, not enough time to worry about who gets what letters. However, I digress. This is yet another community where getting what Mr Osborne called for is going to be even more difficult. He said banks should be focusing on building closer relationships with their customers as he lamented: “that is all gone. It’s all ‘computer says no’.” It seems like we have a Conservative MP that might actually be down with the people, if only Mr Osborne were on hand to protect those Highcliffe residents, surely he could save their day? I mean if this was happening in his constituency, given everything he clearly laid out in his speech…

It is one thing to posture for your audience – he is after all one of those ego driven bods at the very pinnacle of running the country for us mere country-folk – but when it is proven to be complete baloney within days it is all rather disappointing, rather embarrassing too. You see Mr Osborne’s constituency of Tatton – that’s Cheshire if like me that had bypassed you – is where the community of Chelford is and very sadly this is another place that NatWest is deserting in a few weeks. What an opportunity for the MP for Chelford to step up to the plate and campaign for those residents and small businesses that he represents. What an opportunity for The Chancellor of the Exchequer to question the folly of this decision that will be so disastrous for his coffers. What an opportunity for the Second Lord of the Treasury to do whatever it is that he does when he is being that person. Oh come on George, what I mean is, choose one of your many roles and just make a stand and sort this out, because this is what you said a week or two ago: “I think the future lies in much more face-to-face banking. I don’t believe everybody wants to do this over the internet, particularly business customers.” What an opportunity to act, to govern, to lead…and what exactly was Mr Osborne’s response?

“It is very disappointing that the NatWest Chelford branch is to close in June because not enough customers are using it.”

“Disappointing”? Err, what are you talking about George? This sounds an awful long way from your robust campaigning opinion for those at the FSB. So, I ask, how do you know not enough customers use it? Did you pick up the phone to the RBS boss – remember he runs the bank that we all bailed out because it had been so stunningly well run – and rant at him? What might he have said: “trust me George I know what I am doing”? Because very few of us out here in the real world have any faith in anyone running any of our banks right now, with very good reason. The very good reason in this instance being the point that this line the banks are taking is simply not true. Since NatWest announced they were closing the Woodstock branch I have looked long and hard at this. Branches aren’t closing because not enough people use them. They are closing because people can’t do what Mr Osborne said they should be able to do in them. They are closing because British banks appear to be too blinkered, some might say stupid, to work out what other banks around the world have worked out, which means they are closing because our banks haven’t worked out how to get people in them. Mr Osborne actually had the audacity to then add: “I’ve been keen to ensure that an agreement is being worked out with the Chelford Post Office to allow customers to withdraw cash, pay money in, check balances and pay bills free of charge.” This is grade A Italian sausage. This agreement with Post Offices is being thrashed out nationwide and is NOT live yet. Then finally he said: “I am working hard to ensure that these important facilities continue for local customers at the village Post Office.” Really? How hard? As hard as reading out a speech at a conference in front of what David Cameron – your boss, my MP, our PM – calls the “backbone of Britain”, small businesses, which was seemingly simply a wishlist to impress on the day. George you simply fell at the first.

Talking of backbones I recently read a fabulous quote: “replace your wishbone, with a backbone”. I am not sure there is a better way to sum up the hollow words of a wishlist Mr Osborne used to the FSB, but I am sure that as our communities, with myriad small businesses in them, lose extremely important assets for our long term welfare we should most definitely all being going Clive Dunn and racing around shouting: “Don’t panic…Don’t panic”.

Got any comments? Please add your opinion to the debate here: campaign@community-buying.com and see the good work of those working to save our banks here: http://www.communitybanking.org.uk.

Why is this is so important? Because it just isn’t right. 

NatWest deserts Woodstock. “Helpful Banking”? I think not

What is the point of seducing us with beautifully written statements of social responsibility making claims that they will become the “most trusted bank in the UK”, “the best bank for customer service” and that they “aim to make a positive social impact on the communities in which [they] operate in”, if the grand plan is to desert the very community in which all of this amazing work is supposed to be occurring? This is the RBS Group – you know the bank we bailed out and still own. This is their disconnected and hypocritical thinking. And this is a massive issue for Woodstock and for all those communities that feed into and off the prosperity of the central hub.

So NatWest plan to leave Woodstock on the 28th May, 2014. If you think that this is just one of those things that is inevitable no matter what the local population does – you may well be right. But, I for one do not think that they should be allowed to exit quietly, or without an explanation. Most of all certainly not without the local community making it clear that we are not happy about it, do you?

Let’s face it, the fact that our archaic banking system is not really fit for purpose in 2014 is not the fault of the good people of OX20 and the surrounding area is it? If the model doesn’t work then closing a single branch in a thriving, prosperous town is simply window dressing to appease shareholders and not the kind of redesign that is going to transform long term profits. Clearly, very happy to play a role in the local community in the good times, what happened during the not so good times? Surely if a massive corporation, with extraordinary power at their fingertips that states it wants to do “business in a responsible way that recognises our wider influences as a company” actually wanted to get more people through the door then it would do what it states it does: wouldn’t it be great if this could be “through partnerships, local initiatives and supporting the charitable efforts of our employees…benefiting the local community”? I am not sure it takes a genius to see that supporting something like the new Youth Club building would benefit that community and, if integrated properly into a great message, result in more local business coming their way. But what would any of us know about running a massive corporation – we just own it, we don’t possess the right to an opinion.

We can all bank online, surely? Err, no. I have no doubt that everyone cares that many people – often the most vulnerable – really do have no choice but to get into a branch. But not everyone may grasp that a branch is a lifeline to many local businesses and organisations, a branch brings custom to the town, a branch represents a tangible and secure place for those that need it to carry out their banking. You bank with Barclays or via the Post Office? Don’t be fooled into believing that this doesn’t impact you. Where do you think all those that MUST use a branch will switch their accounts to?

I understand that NatWest have extended their contract to allow more services to be performed via the two counters in the Post Office. As brilliant as the Post Office in Woodstock is – and another vital resource this community must hang on to – it is not easily accessible, try getting in there with a wheelchair, or even just a couple of walking sticks. It is also already very busy, I can only begin to imagine the air of utter frustration when someone who wants to weigh a letter finds themselves behind a queue of businesses who want to bank their coins. Is this really what you want us to think of you NatWest? “Helpful Banking”, it really could not be anything but helpful.

The way I see it is really simple. This decision was probably made some time ago and getting it reversed will be tough. But that does not mean the community should do nothing. However hopeless this may feel, I for one am going to make a call for action and ensure that NatWest are not allowed to exit stage left with many responsibilities left unresolved. Why should they? This flies in the face of everything that banks are supposed to do in their community. Where in this decision have they actually considered their greatest asset – the people of this community?

Finally, I am convinced if every local group is prepared to make a stand with us we can sway a mighty corporation that is deserting our high street. I believe we can begin by getting this man to listen: Andrew Cave, Head of RBS Group Sustainability, because, as he clearly states, that is his job: “Our attention is now turning to building a really good bank and one that has customers and community at the heart of what it does”.

chris@community-buying.com 

A night to celebrate all of our people

My amazing team, representing every amazing person that has ever worked for or with CBL, collecting the certificate for Micro Business Award finalists at the West Oxfordshire Business Awards dinner at Heythrop Park

RARELY KNOWN TO PUT ON A SUIT…BUT EVENING TAILS?          Katy Cameron & Faye Parker: my amazing team, collecting the certificate for Micro Business Award finalists, on behalf of every amazing person that has ever worked for or with CBL

Katy Cameron, Ana Bonasera & Faye Parker each have played a significant role in our journey...I am humbled they are so proud to tell the world all about our achievements

THEY TAUGHT ME SO MUCH ABOUT MY OWN BUSINESS BY INSISTING THAT WE BE INVOLVED IN THESE AWARDS!  Katy Cameron, Ana Bonasera & Faye Parker…each have played a significant role in our journey…I am humbled they are so proud of what they are part of they wanted to tell the world all about our achievements

Anthony Russell

REPRESENTING SO MANY BRILLIANT PEOPLE THAT HAVE ADDED THEIR UNIQUE ABILITIES AND TALENTS ON A WHOLE BUNCH OF PROJECTS OVER THE FOUR YEARS: Anthony Russell & Ana Bonasera

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THE COLLABORATORS – A RICH TAPESTRY OF SUPPORTERS, ADVOCATES, BACKERS & MENTORS WE THANK YOU ALL: Paul & Jo Rockwood 

greates

THERE ON BEHALF OF ALL OUR MEMBERS – YOUNG AND OLD – AND ALSO THE GREATEST MENTOR OF ALL: Mrs Pomfret!

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A MAVERICK NEEDS A PERFECT FOIL – TRUE PARTNERSHIP: Hannah Jago

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IT MAY APPEAR DARK BUT SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL LIGHT IN CBL: Hannah Jago

Brendan Cross of Hexagon Business Centres presents the award certificate to Micro Business Award finalists Community Buying Unlimited - Katy Cameron, Chris Pomfret & Faye Parker - at the West Oxfordshire Business Awards dinner at Heythrop Park Picture: Ric Mellis

THE APPLICATION & THE INTERVIEW PROCESS WERE HUGE LEARNING EXPERIENCES FOR ME – WHEN DO BUSINESS OWNERS GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON & THEN PRESENT AGAINST EXTREMELY TOUGH COMPETITION WHAT MAKES THEIR BUSINESS BEYOND NORMAL LEVELS OF SPECIAL? Brendon Cross of Hexagon Business Centres presenting the award certificate to Micro Business Award finalists Community Buying Unlimited – Katy Cameron, Chris Pomfret & Faye Parker – at the West Oxfordshire Business Awards dinner at Heythrop Park.  Picture: Ric Mellis      WE TRULY DID HAVE A SPLENDID GALA EVENING – WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK WOBA FOR PULLING TOGETHER SUCH AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT THAT WILL LAST MUCH LONGER THAN ONE NIGHT

We are always happy to hear your feedback: chris@community-buying.com

PRESS RELEASE: No losers at the WOBA Awards

Community Buying unLimited is a finalist at the

 West Oxfordshire Business Awards

Community Buying unLimited has been named as a finalist in the Hexagon Business Centres Micro Business of the Year Award at the 2014 West Oxfordshire Business Awards (WOBAs). The achievement was recognised at a glamorous event hosted at Heythrop Park Resort near Chipping Norton on Friday 14 March.

The annual awards are now in their fourth year and provide an opportunity for the very best of West Oxfordshire businesses to receive recognition for outstanding achievements over the past year.

“Brimming with pride, full of excitement and truly humbled that a panel of esteemed judges placed us in the final three” said Chris Pomfret, Founder of Community Buying unLimited, when asked how he was feeling about his team making it into the final from a huge field of entrants in their category.  “We learn minute by minute as our businesses evolve and from the first moment my own team insisted we be involved in WOBA 2014 I have learnt so much about my business and my team’s extraordinary commitment to making everything we do exceptional.” Was he disappointed not to be named winner? “There are simply no losers here, we all made it through huge fields of excellent businesses and it is a perfect platform for each of us to build our own businesses and continue to contribute to the booming business environment of West Oxfordshire.”

Brendan Cross of Hexagon Business Centres presents the award certificate to Micro Business Award finalists Community Buying Unlimited - Katy Cameron, Chris Pomfret & Faye Parker - at the West Oxfordshire Business Awards dinner at Heythrop Park Picture: Ric Mellis

Brendan Cross of Hexagon Business Centres presents the award certificate to Micro Business Award finalists Community Buying Unlimited – Katy Cameron, Chris Pomfret & Faye Parker – at the West Oxfordshire Business Awards dinner at Heythrop Park
Picture: Ric Mellis

WOBA Gala Dinner guests were treated to a personal video message from Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron (watch video) who was unable to make this year’s awards due to prior commitments.  Commenting on the WOBAs, he said:

“I am delighted by the progress that the West Oxfordshire Business Awards have made.  Now in their fourth year, the Awards give local businesses the chance to shine and recognises all the hard work that goes into them.

“I am a big supporter of small businesses and I am extremely proud that my constituency plays host to so many.  They play such a vital role in not only the local economy but nationally too.”

The 2014 WOBAs are the most successful to date with the introduction of two new categories designed to increase the volume of entries from a wider range of West Oxfordshire businesses.  For a full list of categories, winners and finalists, visit: www.woba.co.uk.

Jo Sensecall, spokesperson for the WOBA organising team, said: “This was the most fiercely fought WOBAs yet with each award category posing a fantastic problem for our judges due to the high standard of businesses we have in West Oxfordshire. On behalf of the organising team, I would like to extend our congratulations to all finalists and to our very worthy WOBA winners who should feel extremely proud of their business achievements.”

The WOBA Gala Dinner raised £1,360 for Inclusive Care & Education (ICE), winner of the 2013 Polythene UK Charity & Community Award.  Next year’s charity will be Base 33, winner of the 2014 award.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For further information about Community Buying unLimited contact:

Chris Pomfret, Founder, 01993 224111

Photo by: Ric Mellis

For further info about the WOBAS contact:  kelly@kellyleapr.com

About the West Oxfordshire Business Awards

West Oxfordshire is home to a dynamic and entrepreneurial business community that punches well above its weight for the local economy.  Now in their fourth year, the West Oxfordshire Business Awards (known as the WOBAs) give these businesses the opportunity to shine.

The WOBAs are organised by a team of local businesses, who give their time for free to make the Awards happen.  For further information and a full list of 2014 winners, visit: www.woba.co.uk