Earlier this month, I did something new in my career – I got up and went to work in a branch on a bank holiday. In my 35 year career in banking, our branches have always remained closed on each and every UK bank holiday.
It’s a 144 year tradition but it’s one that hasn’t extended to our other services – we have had telephone banking available on bank holidays for a long time and, more recently, our mobile app, online banking, webchat and social media teams means that there are more ways than ever for customers to do their banking whenever it suits them.
It’s no secret that we have closed a number of branches across the country where the number of people using them has dropped significantly (usage is down 36% across our entire network since 2010) but that does not mean that branches aren’t hugely important to our business and to our customers.
Our decision to open 34 of our busiest branches on 4th May was all about choice and convenience. Branches are never more important than when they are hosting those important life changing conversations about buying a home or starting a business. That’s why we made sure that there were extra mortgage advisers available to help those who might normally struggle to visit a branch during the working week.
Feedback was so positive that we are almost doubling the number of branches we open on the next bank holiday, this coming Monday, and this time we will also have extra business managers working alongside our mortgage advisers to have those conversations with our busy customers.
On 4th May I began my day speaking to various radio and TV stations about our decision. The questions I was asked were broadly the same – Is it fair on staff? Is this the end of the bank holiday? Will we do this every bank holiday? I am clear that this is all about choice. We gave our staff the choice to work and were over subscribed with volunteers, we chose to open our busiest branches and our customers had the choice to use the branches at a time convenient to them. I don’t think we will be opening on Christmas Day anytime soon but, as I told the BBC, if the demand is there from customers I will certainly consider it!
I spent the bank holiday working with colleagues to serve our customers in our NatWest Manchester Spring Gardens branch and the feedback from customers was overwhelmingly positive; they liked the fact they had been able to do their banking in a calm and relaxed way on their day off. That’s why we are repeating and extending the trial on Monday and, if we see the same level of demand, I see no reason why it won’t continue.