Abbey pays £200m for kicking National habit

By Stephen Foley
Monday 23 September 2013 06:20

Abbey National is to spend an estimated £200m on a rebranding and refurbishment programme that it promises will boost sales at the retail bank by the middle of next year.

A new corporate identity unveiled yesterday will be installed across the company's 742 branches by the end of the year, with full refits of the most old-fashioned stores starting next April. The bank is closing the umbrella on the couple who have been its logo since the Forties, in favour of a new fuzzy, multi-coloured corporate identity under the shortened name Abbey. The change is aimed at strengthening customer loyalty ahead of plans to compete less aggressively on price.

The change will be accompanied by a blitz on banking jargon, a £15m advertising campaign claiming Abbey is "turning banking on its head".

Wolff Olins , the brand consultancy, was paid £500,000 for work on the new identity, which Luqman Arnold, Abbey's chief executive, said is "more of an atmosphere than a corporate symbol". Abbey will spend £11m by the end of the year to change signs and stationery to the new design. But the heavy expenditure begins next April when the company starts a massive refurbishment programme that Mr Arnold said was desperately needed. "In the late Eighties, Abbey was terrific, stylish, contemporary, innovative. As it diversified into other fields where it had no customers or competencies, it lost the plot with the retail bank, failed to concentrate on it and failed to invest in it".

The size and speed of the refit programme in the core branch network is yet to be finalised but analysts put the likely cost at up to £200m, which will spread over a number of years. The new-look branches will mostly include a glass front, tinted in one of the four new Abbey colours. Staff will be trained to use informal language when talking to customers and have been issued with new scripts urging them to use "cash" instead of "funds" and "get" instead of "withdraw". "Banking" will become "sorting out your money".

Mr Arnold said: "We want happier customers. We don't need millions of new customers, we already have 18 million. But by the middle of next year we would expect this to have a positive impact on revenue".

A stronger brand would give Abbey more "pricing power", he added. "Today Abbey is competing too much on price alone."

Mr Arnold, who joined Abbey last October, has earmarked the company's troubled non-retail divisions for closure or sale. He has also promised at least £200m of annual cost savings - partly achieved by some outsourcing to India - although there will be 600 new staff in branches and call centres this year to improve customer service.

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