Nationwide Building Society is a national treasure, one of our most important financial institutions.
You could argue – I might – that it is the second most vital financial body after the Bank of England.
It stands as a permanent affront to the big banks, it shows that there is a better way to help families manage their finances.
Since 1884 it has offered mortgages that are generally cheaper and savings that are generally more generous than the bank rivals canoffer.
It isn’t always the best, it isn’t supposed to be. But over the longer term, it will do right by you, is the promise it makes.
Moreover, it needn’t chase market share. If others are offering teaser deals to grab custom, let them.
It is perfectly ok for Nationwide sales and profits to fall. It doesn’t have to take bad risks to get bigger. It just has to carryon.
Which is why it would be alarming for it to lose its way, as I fear it might be.
New chief executive Debbie Crosbie is smart, and likable and highly qualified for her job.
But some of her moves lately make me worry.
As a customer, I am happy. I don’t have any desire for the institution to change. I suspect that is true for the majority of members. So, are all these changes about us - or about a new chief executive trying to make an impression?
In particular, expensive TV ads staring Hollywood actor Dominic West hardly shout of mutuality. They shout of showing off, in somewhat strange ways.
Who is he supposed to be? Banks are closing branches, but that’s because fewer people are using them. Would Nationwide keep a branch almost no one uses open just for show?
We have some questions for Nationwide below. We will report the answers when we get them…
Five questions for Debbie Crosbie:
1) How much are you paying Dominic West for those ads? Will it be disclosed? Why not?
2) The West character in the TV ads comes across like a parody of a Wall Street banker circa 1985. Which British high street bank CEO is remotely like that person?
3) Why do you keep using the phrase “a better way to bank”? Do you want to float?
4) What are the headline grabbing 8% savings deals about? NBS is not a challenger bank in need of a quick boost. The point of Nationwide is to be cheaper over a lifetime, not to win headlines for one-off deals. Has it forgotten that?
5) It seems there is more than one class of member, since those of us who just have a savings account didn’t get the recent members bonus. I thought we were all equal. Can you see why this rankles?