‘Proud to be different’ Nationwide abandons SE London

If you’re a Nationwide Building Society customer, you might want to think again about where your money’s kept after the organisation announced plans to close seven branches across south-east London.

Offices at Blackheath, Catford, Greenwich, Lewisham, Peckham, Walworth and Woolwich will close on 27 May, with Nationwide telling customers that staff would be redeployed. (See the letter sent to customers.)

The doomed branches include those inherited from the Portman Building Society in 2007 at Greenwich and Blackheath, which itself took over the Greenwich Building Society in 1997, as well as a relatively new outlet at Woolwich which opened less than four years ago.

Nationwide said the closures were based on “transaction patterns, the ongoing costs of the location, and the number of members and customers actively using the branch”. Which is odd, because the Lewisham branch has always been packed in my experience. It was closed suddenly and with no explanation yesterday afternoon, presumably while staff were told the news.

It added it was “committed to offering a sizeable branch network in London” and claimed there would still be 16 branches remaining in south-east London (Although at present, a quick count-up shows they only have 15 at the moment – see below.). Last year, the mutual warned of branch closures following a drop in profits.

Here’s my five nearest branches at the moment – four will be gone by the end of May. By my reckoning, there’ll be no branches in the 10 miles between the Strand and Eltham, with only eight branches left in south-east London, all in the suburbs (Bexleyheath, Eltham, Sidcup, Orpington, Petts Wood, Bromley, Beckenham and West Wickham).

UPDATE 2PM: Thanks to Brian, who’s knocked up this Google Map of the doomed branches and the alternatives…

A Nationwide spokesman told Docklands 24: “What we are noting in the urban conurbations is a growing use of alternative channels and people who live in the cities using the internet more than those in rural communities.

“We’ve seen these branches with declining usage and pretty much every branch has been unprofitable for a while.”

UPDATE 5:30PM: Lewisham councillor Mike Harris (Labour, Lewisham Central) has called the closure of the Lewisham branch “stupid”, adding it was “the busiest branch I’ve ever been in”.

UPDATE 11:45PM: I’ve discovered another SE London Nationwide branch, in West Wickham. Which takes us up to 15 in SE London – so if Nationwide closes seven, how will there be 16 branches left? (I’m defining SE London as the SE postcodes plus the remainder of Bexley and Bromley boroughs.) The Woolwich branch only opened in April 2007, with Nationwide chief executive Graham Beale calling it “a prime example of the investment and commitment Nationwide has in its branch network”.

28 comments

  1. Brian

    I do like the idea of mutuality – but this is shocking. I’ve plotted the closures on a google map (http://trunc.it/e3sga) – the branches to be closed are in blue and the suggested alternatives in red. There’s going to be a huge Nationwide shaped hole. Does anyone know of an alternative mutual building society>

  2. Darryl

    It reminds me of when Nat West had a big closure programme in the 1990s (including east Greenwich and Blackheath Village) which killed their reputation stone dead.

    Think I’ll be making a closure of my own when circumstances allow.

  3. Darryl

    Alternative mutuals – Yorkshire Building Society, although their only handy branches are at Aldwych and Bexleyheath. Nice staff at Aldwych, though.

    There’s also the Britannia, now merged with the Co-Operative Bank.

  4. James

    With them now charging for overseas debit/credit card use (it being free was the reason I joined 5 years ago), and their ISA’s giving poor interest (worse than most others so I don’t use them for that anymore) I think this will be the end of my custom with them.

  5. Alex

    I’ve recently moved from Greenwich to Herne Hill, so my branch closure does not effect me so much personally (my closest branch is now Brixton), but I was amazed by the decision when i received the letter this morning. I can’t imagine they would leave zone 1-3 in SW London with no branches. I Wrote an email of complaint to graeme.hughes@nationwide.co.uk (Divisional Director, Branch Network) and received an email back saying the matter was being looked into. Maybe more of us could write to him?

  6. Nec

    Even if it wasn’t already massively busy, surely the Lewisham branch would be well placed to mop up the work of the Catford, Greenwich and Blackheath branches. This seems utterly bizarre. It’s a shame Nationwide has been allowed to become so dominant in the mutual sector – in some ways, it’s as bad as any bank.

  7. J Tull

    Every time I went to those branches it was queues out the door. Notice that Nationwide said it was “transaction pattern”, not “transaction volume”. This matches my experience – compared to the average bank there are lots more transactions but they look like low value transactions and complicated foreign remittances, neither of which is profitable. Also perhaps the bank is using a blunt stick to address the local fraud problem by just giving up entirely rather than being selective in business.

  8. Plummy Mummy

    I agree with Martin Robinson above that the staff in teh Greenwich branch were lovely, helpful and efficient. So it’s a very big shame they are closing. However, I found the Woolwich staff were not at all helpful so sad to say, I’m not sorry to see them go.
    In truth the only time I need a branch is when I have to pay in a cheque which these days is very rarely :(

    Alex thanks for the email address. Will send off a note too.

  9. Pix

    I was amazed to get my letter today. I haven’t lived in London for 4 years now but Catford was my local branch & that was always packed at lunchtimes & Saturdays.
    Lewisham was just packed all the time with queues out the door at peak times.

    Surely they need to open a new branch in the middle of this hole they have left. Eltham & Bromley are just too far to go to pay a cheque in, especially for those without a car.

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  11. Dai Smile

    So Nationwide is closing branches because of declining profits? Not, of course, before clamping down on directors’ salaries. The annual accounts proudly boast that a pay freeze is in force for 2009-2011. That means the chief exec Graham Beale, has to get by on a total remuneration of only £1.54m, while the lowest paid of seven executive directors received barely more than £700,000 last year. They should obviously be praised for such self-sacrifice in the true spirit of a mutual organisation.

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  13. Lucy Neville

    I use Peckham Branch and there’s always a long queue, the staff are as helpful as they are able to be – I’ve seen them looking after one after another of elderly, slightly confused customers. They’re not going to pop over to Brixton, or Clapham – apparently our nearest branches. Nor are they going to necessarily be computer-savvy.

    I am so disgusted at these proposals and the lack of consultation with us– isn’t the money from the poorer end of the community of any use to Nationwide?

  14. Pablo T

    WE had our mortgage with both the Greenwich and the Portman – they were both good building societies, it’s a tragedy that we’ve lost them.

    My son’s saving account is in the Nationwide – so I guess, age 10, he will learn not to be loyal to financial institutions, and to show as little commitment to them as they do to their customers.

  15. Darryl

    Thanks for your comments, everybody.

    Remembered this last night when I waited for a bus outside it – the nearest mutual to the Greenwich area will now be the Chelsea Building Society (part of the Yorkshire these days) which has a branch opposite Lewisham police station.

  16. Dmitri Old

    As a user of the Eltham branch on a regular basis, the thought of even 10% additional customers during their limited weekend opening is horrific. I never understood during their lovely refurbishment they added a couple of seats and a toy, and took away one of the customer points, leaving 2 instead of 3. Surprise – every Saturday it is rammed.

    I work in Docklands and Nationwide have now taken away Greenwich and Lewisham as potential customer points for me to deposit cash etc. and get money from the book I have, so I either have to get in the crush at weekends, or travel to lord knows where. Needless to say it is the only major financial institution not represented in E14!

    Utter madness.

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  21. Devon Scente

    My local branches are on High Holborn but as they are closed early on weekdays and not open on weekends I have been using their branch on the Walworth Road near to where I work. Since the closure was announced I went to open an account elsewhere and naturally I am only going to go with a bank/society that is usful to my location. I opted for Metro Bank in the end but I really find it daft that they are going to close these branches and not open new ones or even modify existing opening times at other branches.

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  24. Roy Fitch

    As a past District Manager of Nationwide 1969/1992 the then Tim Melville Ross CEO earned in 1989 £140k which was approx 7 times what I earned, now a Branch Manager earns £30 – £50k. G Beale’s pay is now 30/50 times that of a manager. Like in all big companies executive salaries are out of control, the remuneration commitee is a self perpetuating oligarchy@@

  25. albert owens

    Concur entirely with Roy Fitch. Nationwide is now more of a business geared to line the pockets of the Executives rather than a mutual.society with a caring ethic.
    I live in Catford which Nationwide closed following a costly refit….what a farce. Not only did they close Catford but Lewisham and Blackheath branches to boot. Never thought I’d say it but demutualisation
    might just might provide a better business plan where customers views and needs are taken into account in the real world

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