CEO Steve Fletcher – who runs Vernon Building Society, which has just six branches in and around Stockport, Greater Manchester, and 90 staff – is planning to open more branches
Bank boss Steve Fletcher closed almost 200 branches as an executive at the Clydesdale and Yorkshire but after taking the top job at a tiny building society he plans to buck that trend and open outlets.
CEO Steve runs Vernon Building Society, which has just six branches in and around Stockport, Greater Manchester, and 90 staff.
He has listened to customers and is determined to carry on providing the face-to-face service they love. He said: “We have it in our plan that we will open somewhere next year. I could see our reach becoming greater. If we were to commit to those communities, I think the communities will commit back to us.”
The Vernon, which celebrates its 100th birthday next month, is spending £1.1million on revamping branches.
It is a change for Steve, who closed round 180 Clydesdale and Yorkshire branches between 2012 and 2017, including 80 in his last year. Leeds-born Steve, 61, said: “It was like, every year we needed to find cost cuts – let’s close some more branches.
“I thought, I don’t want to be part of that. When the bank goes in the high street, a lot of businesses around go too.”
Banks and building societies have closed half of all branches – more than 5,800 – since the start of 2015. It has been a huge problem for people who still rely on them, especially the elderly, for those wary of online banking, and for small businesses.
Joan Timony, 78, a Vernon customer for 40 years, said: “I’m a bit of a dinosaur, I guess, but I just like the personal service.”
Chris Kilduff, 52, has had a Vernon account since he was four and goes to the central Stockport branch twice a week to withdraw cash. He said: “I know who I’ll be dealing with behind the counter, whether it’s Gerry, Megan, Katrina or Carol. I would be devastated if the branch closed.”
Michael Long, 70, has just opened two savings accounts with the Vernon and being able to go to a branch was key. He said: “It is more reassuring.”
Semi-retired physio John Griffiths, 75, has a Vernon mortgage. He said: “I still think there will be a niche market for branches with a personal service in future.”
Preventing fraud is another issue. Branch worker Gerry Lamb tells of a case where someone produced a passbook and asked to withdraw £500. She said: “I thought, this isn’t the customer I know. He said he didn’t have any ID, so left.
“Just after that the customer rang up and said his passbook had been stolen from his car.” The Vernon has just 31,000 customers, with 55 first-time mortgages approved in 2022.
Mortgage arrears at the building society are around a third of the national average. Steve said: “I know the name of every customer who is behind on their mortgage, and some of them are not very behind.”