Nationwide bosses vow not to abandon towns and pledge to keep at least one branch open in each area
The country’s biggest building society has promised it will not abandon any towns or cities until January 2023.
Nationwide had previously pledged to keep at least one branch open in towns where it has them until next May.
It has now extended this commitment as a result of the pandemic.
Banks have come under fire in recent months for failing to offer a proper branch service, with customers forced to queue around the block because opening hours have been slashed or turned away altogether if their visit is not deemed essential.
Experts warn it is a cynical attempt to speed up branch closures, with around a third having disappeared over the past five years, according to Which?
Nationwide’s guarantee will be a relief for many elderly and vulnerable customers who rely on a counter service for banking.
But it does not mean all branches will remain open during the extended period as the building society could still axe some if there are more than one in an area.
This might be due to low usage or to integrate a branch into a more modern building, said Nationwide.
Since introducing its original pledge last May, 16 Nationwide branches around the country have closed, while two new ones have opened.
Staffing issues caused by the pandemic mean half of the building society’s branches are only open from 9am to 2pm, with 2 per cent closed altogether.
Mandy Beech, branch network director of Nationwide, said: ‘Over the course of the pandemic we have seen an increase in telephone and digital banking but customers are also valuing face-to-face banking more than ever, especially for complex fraud cases and, more sadly, bereavements.
‘We want to give customers some reassurance our doors are open and branches remain at the heart of our strategy.’
James Daley, of the consumer website Fairer Finance, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see Nationwide extending its commitment to keep its branches in towns and cities… at a time when most banking organisations are continuing to move in the opposite direction.
‘Millions in the UK still rely on branch access and it’s vital banks and building societies keep these lifelines open.’