UK’s last independent savings bank to shut four branches

IT is the UK’s last independent savings bank – a 180-year-old institution which “stuck to its knitting” through the financial crisis and appeared to weather the storm with ease.

But after decades of serving local Lanarkshire communities, Airdrie Savings Bank (ASB) has made the decision to close the doors to four of its branches, with the loss of 20 jobs.

The bank says it had been forced to “modernise and restructure” in the face of low interest rates and consumers becoming more inclined to access their accounts via the internet or telephone banking.

And while ASB was not involved in any of the behaviour which brought about the financial crisis, it is still subject to the new regulations put in place following the crash – a fact which chief executive Rod Ashley claims has hit the bank hard.

“Through the financial crisis there were no real issues there for us”, he said. “But the face of banking has changed completely since then.

“While the bank here really had nothing to do with the reasons that caused the financial crisis at all, the remedies that have been brought in at a UK level, and increasingly at a European level, apply to everybody in the same way.

“The raft of new legislation, rules, regulations and assessments all have to be adhered to, so despite being small, we have to try to work out how we can comply with them to keep the bank in existence.

“This means our costs in that area of compliance and regulatory return have increased.”

The bank – which recorded losses in 2013 and 2014 – will close its branches in Motherwell, Baillieston, Muirhead and Shotts, while customers will still be able to continue banking at ASB’s sites at Airdrie, Coatbridge, Bellshill and Falkirk, a branch which was only opened in 2011 as part of an expansion plan.

Customer accounts will remain unchanged, with consumers being urged to use the bank’s online and telephone services, or visit one of the remaining branches if they prefer a face-to-face service.

However, the move has led to some concern that the bank is losing its place as an institution at the heart of the community – a position which appears to have served it well over the years.

One employee, who did not want to be named, said: “On our website we have a slogan: Honest banking at the heart of the community.

“It’s ironic then that we’re now pulling out of four of those very communities that we are supposed to serve. It will be a big blow.”

ASB began life much like a credit union as part of the TSB movement in 1835 in a move designed to allow the poor to put a little aside somewhere safe.

The movement grew and eventually many organisations merged in the 1980s, later to be taken over by what is now Lloyds Banking Group.

However, ASB decided against the merger and remained independent, retaining local branches in its Lanarkshire heartland.

Mr Ashley, who took over at the bank in 2013, argued that, while he appreciates some people may view the current changes as a move away from the bank’s roots, the reality is that many people do not want to visit their branch anymore.

He said: “A lot of people simply want to know what’s my balance, has that payment come off, has my salary gone in, and if you can get that quickly on your tablet or phone, most people are happy with that.”

For those who do still want face-to-face banking, Mr Ashley added that ASB plans to explore new ways of offering services – including looking at moving into existing community hubs with the help of the Scottish Government.

However, while Mr Ashley argues that the restructure will “re-shape service delivery and improve customer performance, whilst achieving necessary cost efficiencies”, he is not willing to fully commit to saying that it will prevent further closures in the future.

“I think in the current climate, it’s very difficult to be definitive and say yes or no”, he said. “But I’m confident that these changes will put the bank on a footing which should lead to a sustainable and good future, with the bank being better able to serve our communities through time.”

A spokesman for trade union Unison Scotland urged any of its members affected by the redundancies to contact their representative.



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