A record 816,000 new current accounts were opened at Nationwide last year, it revealed, as it vowed to protect its branch network.
Joe Garner, chief executive of Britain’s biggest building society, said more than 40 per cent of accounts opened in the year to April were set up by customers who physically visited branches.
And he argued that customers were attracted by the mutual’s pledge to maintain its 650-strong network at a time when rivals are axing outlets.
Nationwide boss Joe Garner said that his society could not commit to never closing branches, but he insisted there would be no widespread cost-cutting drive to slash the network
Nearly one in five new current accounts opened in the period were with Nationwide.
Its success – with an average of more than 2,200 accounts being opened every day – casts doubt on claims, trumpeted by the likes of Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, that customers would rather do their banking online and no longer care about the branches.
Garner said: ‘When it comes to choosing a current account provider, many people still want to look someone in the eye and be reassured that their money is safe.
We’re seeing many customers quite literally voting with their feet.
Closures of bank branches have gathered pace in the past few years, with the big High Street lenders shutting 800 between them in 2017.
Natwest owner RBS is axing a further 420 this year, a third of its network, in a battle to reduce costs.
Nationwide boss Joe Garner said that his society could not commit to never closing branches, but he insisted there would be no widespread cost-cutting drive to slash the network.
Nationwide even opened an outlet last year in Glastonbury, Somerset, after the last bank in the town closed its doors. Garner said the move was popular with customers and the branch was widely used.
‘We, like anyone else, can see the arrival of automation, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, but we do think the demise of the role of the human being has been overstated.’
It came as Nationwide unveiled a 4.4 per cent fall in profits to £977million for the financial year, while new mortgage lending dropped by 34 per cent to £5.8billion.
Bosses blamed cut-throat competition for mortgage customers, which has pushed down rates and seen rivals try to muscle in.
The battle for business has been so fierce that two-year fixed rates actually fell after interest rates were hiked last year, in an extremely unusual move.
However, chief products officer Chris Rhodes said that rates have probably now bottomed out and will start to rise in coming months.
He added that growth in families’ savings is slow at present following a year-long squeeze on incomes, which saw spare cash being spent instead of being put away.