One sold itself on the bowler-hatted integrity of City gentlemen. Another entered Britain's consciousness with the celebrated slogan, "Be a smarter investor with Alliance & Leicester." And a third 19th-century financial house was known best for a young couple sheltering under the safety of a green umbrella – an image that suggested stability and family values.
But now Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester and Abbey will each lose their identities and be despatched to the history books, after their new Spanish owner called time on more than 150 years of high street banking in Britain.
Consumers must wait to see how consolidation will affects individual branches and their once-competing financial products. All three logos will disappear by the end of next year, to be replaced by the red and white flame of Santander. The acquisitions of the mortgage lenders represents a considerable bet on the recovery of the British economy. The Spanish giant, which registered profits of £7.7bn in 2008 and has been a success story amid the sometime-chaos of the financial crisis, gained access to 18 million customers when it bought Abbey in 2004 for around £8bn, in Europe's biggest cross-border bank takeover.
In total there will be almost 1,300 Santander branches, the equivalent of 10 per cent of all high street branches in the UK. Existing customers of each company will be able to use all of the outlets. Santander's chief executive in the UK, Antonio Horta-Osorio, said the time was right to substitute the centuries-old British brands for the Spanish one. "People consider Santander as a very safe brand and consider their deposits very safe with us", he said.
At present, there are 700 Abbey branches, 254 Alliance & Leicester and 338 Bradford & Bingley outlets. Mr Horta-Osorio pledged that the £12m rebranding exercise would not lead to any of the branches being forced to close, or job losses for staff currently working in them. "It's important for customers who travel around the UK to have 1,300 branches to transact with – and they will have the same product and the same people facing them in the branches."
The Spanish firm, whose internet bank Cahoot will retain its identity, is the second biggest bank in the world, after HSBC. It said it hoped eventually to save around £180m by integrating the three businesses under a logo that now appears in over 40 countries.
Name changes will begin in earnest next month, when Abbey credit cards are rebranded, with branches of Abbey and B&B following suit early next year.
Santander said the rebranding will deliver "a significant advantage" for its 25 million customers. But banking analysts warned that the move could reduce competition on a high street already hit by the merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB last year.
"When all the brands are combined under Santander, we must expect there to be a reduction in choice and competition", warned Kevin Mountford, head of banking at moneysupermarket.com. "Consumers will need to keep their eyes peeled to see how this will affect them, as there can be no doubt the consolidation process will leave some casualties," he said.
Last July Santander bought A&L in a £1.3m deal. In September the Government nationalised the mortgage book of B&B, leading to Santander's purchase of the ailing firm, Britain's biggest lender to landlords, for £612m.
Santander's sponsorship of Formula One motor racing, and in particular the British world champion Lewis Hamilton, has had a "major" impact on brand recognition, Mr Horta-Osorio added.
Savings: A 19th-century habit, a 21st-century casualty
In 1849, the National Freehold Land and Building Society formed. Twenty-five years later, the Abbey Road & St John's Wood Permanent Benefit Building Society was founded in a Baptist church in Kilburn, north London, and in 1927 moved to 219-229 Baker Street. Sherlock Holmes, who lived at the mythical 221B Baker Street, was a tenant of sorts. In 1944, Abbey Road and the National Building Society merged to form the Abbey Building Society. It demutualised in 1989, becoming the first building society to convert to banking status. Advertising slogan "Get the Abbey habit" was ditched in 2004 – along with the green umbrella couple – when it was bought by Santander.
Bradford & Bingley
Those twin bowler hats featured in a celebrated advertising campaign starring Mr Bradford and (later) Mrs Bingley. B&B owns the trademark on 100 variations, from the gesture of raising and lowering bowler hats (TM number: UK2130164) and stacked silhouettes of rainbow-coloured bowler hats (UK2184803), to an image of the hats blowing away in the wind (UK2168259). Bradford Second Equitable Building Society and the Bingley, Morton and Shipley Permanent Benefit Building Society merged in 1964, having both been founded in 1851. In December 2000 B&B demutualised and floated on the stock exchange.
Alliance & Leicester
The Leicester Permanent Benefit Society, formed in 1852, merged with Alliance Building Society (previously known as, and based in, Brighton & Sussex) in 1985. At the time it was the largest such merger ever, with combined assets of £7bn. Alliance was so named in 1945, capitalising on a spirit of national solidarity, and reflecting the series of mergers between local societies that Brighton & Sussex had undertaken through the previous decade. In 1990 A&L bought Girobank from the Post Office, the first time a building society had bought a bank.