When TSB relaunched in 2013, it sold the dream of a return to good old fashioned local banking, since then it has announced the closure of all but 220 branches

When TSB relaunched its operations in 2013, they sold the idea of a return of good old-fashioned local banking. Since then, it has closed all but 220 branches.

‘Welcome back to local banking’. That was the message that TSB proclaimed when it returned in fall 2013.

Lloyds Bank was re-spinned and the local bank banged its drums all over.

Branchs were wrapped with giant banners. Chief executive Peter Pester used the phrase throughout every interview.

This sentimental little number told how in 1810, the Reverend Henry Duncan ‘built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard working local people’ and it showed a journey through the years, with an animated history of how Britain’s industry and towns grew up.

Splashed through the video were mentions of things like ‘serving the community’ and at the end, after hard times had fallen, new hope was delivered by the discovery of that long, lost bank branch by a little girl.

What is the end goal? Of course, it was that slogan: ‘Welcome back to local banking’.

It is easy to imagine small business customers and clients who succumbed to the marketing hype of TSB’s promise of local banking being greatly annoyed by this move in recent years.

Self-described champion for local banking, has been busy closing branches. This week, he announced the closures of 70 more.

In September 2013, when I went to TSB’s media launch to be sold the local banking dream, Mr Pester and his fellow executives were very keen to tell us about its 631 branches across the country.

Here was a ‘challenger’ bank – a term we somewhat disputed considering its heft and age of 203 – that was really different, claimed TSB.

It wasn’t just one of these new digital-only banks. The bank had real-life branches that made local decisions on behalf of the community.

What number of the 631 branches are still left do you believe?

It will now be 220 after the latest round of closings.

Banks closing branch is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that made TSB’s posturing stand out in 2013 was that it was doing the local branch routine in the face of lots of banks already shutting their doors.

Look down TSB’s list of branch closures, or those of its big rivals, Lloyds, Halifax, Barclays, Santander etc and you start to notice something though.

It’s not just the smaller, out of the way, or less affluent places that are losing bank branches hand over fist 

It’s not just the smaller, out of the way, or less affluent places that are losing bank branches hand over fist. The closures are now hitting well-off towns and cities, where customers probably thought they’d always have their bank.

Think St Albans, Chipping Norton, Hitchin, Ilkley, Wilmslow, Tunbridge Wells, which all feature on TSB’s 2020 to 2022 closures.

However, I will admit that closing bank branches does not bother me.

I’m sure many readers will share my desire to avoid having to go into the bank at all costs. If it’s possible to do it via an app or online, then I will.

Partly, this is down to the apparently ‘improved’ experiences that our banks have offered us in branch over the years.

Typically, this consists of walls of machines in a huge empty space, with some staff who can’t actually help you directing you back to the machines you didn’t want to use, and a long queue for the one or two cashiers who could help you.

There may also be some chairs where you can wait for 45 minutes for some precious time with the ‘people who sit behind computers’ at their divided off desks.

Covid has helpfully introduced an extra bank torment – reduced opening hours.

If you are really lucky you get bank branch bingo: entry after a queue outside, on your second trip there as it was shut first time, a machine that doesn’t work, a line for a cashier who can’t help, and then a half hour wait to get into Dividerland to speak to one of the people behind a computer.

Faced with this, it’s little surprise that many are a bit apathetic about branch closures.

TSB even wrapped its branches in giant banners selling local banking

TSB also wrapped its branches in banners advertising local banking

The TSB was still in place back 2013 when local branch banking matters.

They are essential for seniors, small businesses, people who don’t have the technology, or those that cannot bank online.

Branch offices also possess a vital part of banking and economics: the ability to acquire local information.

This fact was brought out by Dave Fishwick, a friend and businessman who wrote The Bank of Dave and whose TV series, Bank of Dave, about his efforts to create a local bank that would help Burnley’s residents and businesses.

It showed how in the rush to big banking, we’d lost that vital local knowledge that can help grassroots entrepreneurialism.

Despite all the great promises, TSB became quite irritated with me 8 years ago, when I inquired about where loans would be made to small-businesses.

The answer was not local, but centrally. That’s why we wrote an article highlighting how local experts were more likely to know if a small company or entrepreneur would succeed, and who should apply for that loan.

Speak to the banks and they’ll tell you that they are only responding to customer demand – and their clever technology and smart centralised teams can assess local small businesses and get money to them.

You can’t help but feel that in terms of helping the economy, we’re missing a trick here though.

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