Death Of The Bank: As important as the local pub

The people of one Kent village say the whole community will suffer if their only bank closes
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MARDEN, a small farming community in rural Kent, has one bank in the centre of the village. Between the hours of 10am and 2.30pm a steady stream of customers flow in and out of the door to the tiny NatWest branch. It is an economic lifeline for the local people, who consider their bank the glue that holds the whole village together.

But NatWest's announcement that it would close a further 200 branches to stave off a hostile bid from the Bank of Scotland has reignited worry in Marden, as the local people wonder if their bank will be the next one to close down.

"As you lose something in a village it has a domino effect," says Robin Judd, a local councillor. The consensus is that if the bank goes, so might the village. Bank customers like the personal service and often frequent local shops while they're in the village, ensuring consistent business for shopkeepers.

Farmers in green clothes and muddy boots trek to Marden daily to do their banking business. Fruit and hop farms in the region must by law pay workers on a daily basis. Without a bank, employers would have to either travel further each day to neighbouring Staplehurst, or withdraw larger sums of money - a proposition they find risky. "I wouldn't want to be carrying that sort of cash on my own," says Sheila Adams, a farmer.

Fears for the future of the branch have been exacerbated by NatWest's decision a few years ago to close it on Wednesdays. Local people were able to broker an annual review of the practice, but according to Sheena Mumford, clerk to Marden parish council, "NatWest was not able to deny that it might be closed permanently."

The Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) estimates that since 1990 more than 4,000 bank branches have closed throughout the country. The group helps to organise local communities into taking action when their local banks are under threat. "We do accept that there are economic pressures [to close branches]," Derek French, CCBS director, says. "What should not happen is that a community with three or four banks loses them all, one by one."

Residents agree. "We're not here to knock NatWest," said Michael Lutener, a fruit grower. "We're not trying to be divisive, but they're undoubtedly getting a better return than we are."

For now, the bank appears to be safe. "There are no plans to do anything with the Marden branch," Anthony Frost, a NatWest spokesman, said. "Certainly none to close it."

That is a relief for Mark Ensoll, group secretary of the National Farmers' Union. "I'm not into electronic banking and all that other nonsense," he said. "I prefer dealing with people. The bank is as important as the local pub."

CUSTOMERS' COMPLAINTS

SLOPPINESS AND ARROGANCE

Incorrect entries, unhelpful staff and failure to admit and rectify mistakes.

EXORBITANT CHARGES

Up to pounds 28 a letter. Charges for using another bank's cash machine. Cheques take five days to clear, so extra charges often hit customers.

HASSLES OVER NEW ACCOUNTS

Customers refused without passport or driving licence.

AWKWARD BRANCH CLOSURES

Customers have to use other branches or cash machines.

BAD DEAL FOR DISABLED

High-tech systems ignore needs of the disadvantaged.

IMPERSONAL CALL CENTRES

Staff stick to script, useless for complaints or queries.

IRRELEVANT OMBUDSMAN

Investigations take ages and banks are always right.

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