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”.