Branches go as UK’s last independent savings bank retreats from Lanarkshire’s high streets

Rod Ashley
Rod Ashley

Airdrie Savings Bank, the UK’s last independent savings bank, is to close four of its Lanarkshire branches with the loss of 20 jobs.

The bank said the move has been prompted by the effects of low interest rates and the rise in internet or telephone banking, as well as the impact of new, post financial crisis regulation.

The bank said the developments had forced it to “modernise and restructure” to meet the challenges.

ASB said it was suffering under the pressure of new regulations brought in to address the cause of the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, an event that a savings bank such as ASB had no part in.

Nevertheless, ASB chief executive Rod Ashley says the fallout has been highly-damaging for the bank, which has recorded losses in 2013 and 2014.

He said: “Through the financial crisis there were no real issues there for us.

“But the face of banking has changed completely since then.

“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 will close its branches in Motherwell, Baillieston, Muirhead and Shotts.

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.

ASB was established as a type of like a credit union as part of the TSB movement in 1835 in a move designed to allow the poor to save safely.

The initiative proved to be a success and swelled to eventually include many organisations which merged in the 1980s, later to be taken over by what is now Lloyds Banking Group.

However, ASB opted to stand alone and remained independent, retaining local branches in its Lanarkshire heartland.

The move to close branches will not impact on customer accounts, which will remain unchanged.

But ASB said customers will be 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 claims 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.

Speaking to the local Herald newspaper, an ASB 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.”

Addressing the claims, Mr Ashley, who took over at the bank in 2013, said that while he appreciates some people may view the current changes as a move away from the bank’s roots, this is at odds with the reality 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.”

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