In committing to doing a blog several times a week, the biggest worry is how the hell am I going to find something to write about each time? Since I started the blog a few months before the credit crunch I needn’t have worried, events have been nothing short of sensational and yesterday’s announcement from the Lloyds Banking Group marks another historic landmark.
It is incredibly unfortunate that it has come to this, and great names such as C&G, Abbey, Alliance & Leicester, and Bradford & Bingley disappearing from our high streets is sad to see.
However there are some harsh realities at play here, and any business would struggle to rationalise the fact that one company has several different brands on the same high street competing for the same clients, especially in a market where the availability of finance has dropped beyond recognition and many consumers now do not use the branch network as they used to.
I have nothing but sympathy for all those decent, hard-working people who are being displaced, but we can see from the city’s reaction that this makes economic sense.
The same applies to the long awaited changes elsewhere within the Lloyds Banking Group. These were tough decisions that I know were not taken lightly, made in order to compete effectively and be able to move forward.
Our thoughts are with those on the front line who will bear the brunt of these changes, good, hard-working people amongst whom we have many friends. Perhaps we should also, however, spare a thought for the decision makers who themselves have been forced into this position by the market environment, and arguably by the actions of their predecessors.
I know Union officials will disagree, and I am unaware of internal staff communication, but from an outside intermediary view I think it was handled as well as could be expected. We had the inevitable early morning leak around branch closures, but Lloyds did the right thing and refused to be drawn from their own timetable.
By afternoon we had a clear email explaining the changes and a Q&A document. It was not perfect, but it showed that this was carefully thought out.
As intermediaries we now have four main brands to deal with, Halifax, BM Solutions, C&G and Scottish Widows. All great names.
From a personal point of view Bank of Scotland not being an intermediary brand was the biggest shock, and the biggest loss.
When I started as a young administrator at Charcol I remember clearly my first calls to the Bank. Speaking to a lovely young lass called Sheila with a soft, lilting Edinburgh accent who could not do enough to help. I was hooked from there, (admittedly I had a massive crush but that was not the point)! Over the last 15 years pretty much everyone I came into contact with from Bank of Scotland had the same approach, from top to bottom. Professional, helpful, friendly and efficient. They helped us grow our business, both at Charcol, Cobalt and the support they have shown for Coreco has been dearly valued.
However, times change. As intermediaries we must respect these decisions, and work with what we have. We must hope that Lloyds Banking Group are true to their word that they still see intermediaries as an integral part of their future. We will know this when we see how they handle dual-pricing, retention and proc fees going forward.
At a time when trust in banks is at an all time low, lenders need us more than ever. The footfall into branches will continue to decline as new generations who grew up with a mouse in their hand from before they could walk become ever more comfortable with technology, lenders IT systems become more efficient, and more people demand professional independent advice rather than being offered one providers choices.
So we are where we are. Fewer brands means less consumer choice and less competition which is not in anyone’s interest and we can only hope that the doors of the lending stable open again sooner rather than later.
I wish everyone in the Lloyds Banking Group well.