NatWest push Nora’s buttons

Nora is in what some might call her “advanced years”. She’s a widow and lives a frugal but content life in a village near Woodstock. Happy to partake in village activities organised for other pensioners, she rarely says too much more than hello and good bye. Nora is a mild mannered, sweet and good person. Nora’s done her bit for society and, for many reasons, she deserves to have society do a bit for her.

So how is it that NatWest’s decision to desert Woodstock and the surrounding community could drive Nora into doing something that is completely out of her comfort zone? She left a message on our answer machine! 

Nora’s first telephone banking call!

Oh the irony! NatWest and their parent, RBS Group, have a financial education community project, along with a plethora of other community projects, and yet they have never tried to “educate” Nora. Which means they do not have a cat in hell’s chance of ever getting Nora to make telephone banking calls, let alone do online banking. So NatWest must be very proud that they have pushed Nora’s buttons so far that when she read our flyer, that went through her door on Good Friday, she immediately picked up the phone to add her support to the campaign to stop this desertion and, therefore, she made her first telephone banking call – of sorts. 

“I’m very angry about this”: the message was hesitant. Name. Postcode. Then silence. Just when it seemed it was over, there it was, in as frustrated a voice as I can imagine Nora has ever mustered came: “I’m very angry about this”. Then in haste, down went the phone. How brave. Nora is my new hero.

Why must we do this? How many others like Nora are out there with no voice? No doubt feeling isolated, abused by powerful corporations that disrespect their years of loyalty and like they are no longer included in an ever changing society. They deserve to be represented and heard – don’t they?

What do RBS themselves say about this?  

This is from the very impressive Sustainability Report. It is bold, enlightening, honest and full of hope…how exciting…

Chairman and Chief Executive’s Foreword

In 2013, we were the least trusted company in the least trusted sector of the economy. That must change. We have to restore that trust and be valued by our customers, shareholders, society and our people. Delivering on our purpose to serve customers well will mean running the bank differently. In 2013, we began that journey.

Since 2009 RBS has been cleaning up the world’s largest bank balance sheet by
removing more than £1 trillion in assets. This was a remarkable achievement, born of
absolute necessity. We must now take on a task of equal magnitude: creating a stepchange in the customer service and financial performance of RBS, whilst meeting the needs of society and our people.

We have made a commitment to build a stronger RBS which will deliver sustainable
returns to our shareholders. We will be changing our business to make it easier for our customers to do business with us. We will also continue to meet our responsibility to society by managing our direct and indirect operational impacts, and contributing towards sustainable and responsible growth. Transforming our business will depend on a strong and engaged workforce, so we must make RBS a great place to work. 

It is our job to make sure our strategy translates into value for our key stakeholders.

Ross McEwan, Chief Executive
Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman

The way I read this they have let Nora and her kin down NINE times, maybe more, on these mighty statements. I have one word for these two extremely powerful men – embarrassing.

Addendum: Nora’s response has made such an impression on me that I am going to redouble my commitment to stop this from happening. You know the reason that big corporations do this sort of thing – i.e. write reams on how they are going to look out for the vulnerable in our society and then do exactly the opposite? It is because they have made the calculation and they have worked out that the positive PR this gives them far outweighs the tiny amount of bad press they get, because they realise that the vulnerable generally don’t complain. Basically, Nora is an equation to them, not a person. I think that is disgusting.  

NatWest come clean, finally!

natwest campaign 11natwest campaign 12


The iconic and truly stunning Market Square in Woodstock. It has been the darling of major films and blockbuster TV programmes for decades. The prestige of being part of this world famous scene surely something any corporation would be proud of – or so you’d think. 

natwest campaign 13 The idyllic home of NatWest on the square.

It seems they’ve given the town notice natwest campaign 14natwest campaign 10  Nice of them to come clean and say it as it is.

OK I plead guilty your honour. I defaced the property of my bank early this morning. I do hope they want to take legal action, because it pales into insignificance compared to how they are defacing my community, and I would rather relish a day in court to argue the issue with them.

It seems that some people believe it doesn’t matter what we do NatWest are leaving anyway. Well they could not be more wrong. NatWest will not be leaving Woodstock on the 28th May, 2014. They might still think they are, but not for very much longer. 

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”:

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?

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: and see the good work of those working to save our banks here:

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”.