Meanwhile the debate continues about the future of retail banking and how it will evolve in the future.
Perhaps now is the time to make the case for a pragmatic approach, where the digital and physical approaches to money management are blended.
Whilst we don’t offer current accounts, the same principles apply to managing savings. We understand that our customers want to do business with us in the way that suits them best.
Rather than forcing them to choose between managing their savings solely through digital channels, or only via a branch, at Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) we take a hybrid approach to enable and empower our customers to manage their savings in line with their preferences.
We do this by having a commitment to our branch network matched equally with an ever-growing digital capability. We believe we now offer a genuine hybrid approach to accessing our mortgages and savings whether that’s through digital channels, on the phone or face-to-face.
The pandemic has focused us and other financial services providers on the importance of helping customers to choose how they manage their money.
We recently shared research that almost one in five UK adults have less than £100 in savings. Our focus throughout the pandemic continues to be to support our customers in building financial resilience through saving.
So, the future of community banking could also mean in-person services to support financial resilience – which is why we have launched a pilot partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau, supporting people who are in real need of practical help.
This pilot scheme in six Yorkshire Building Society branches (including Wakefield, Barnsley, York and Castleford) hosts Citizens Advice expert advisers who provide free and confidential assistance to both members and non-members.
At YBS, we supported people to open more than 150,000 savings accounts in the first half of this year and helped them to access savings when they needed them. We also launched our savings app last year, which has supported more than 140,000 customers to stay at home and transact digitally through a brand-new channel.
Nationally, we have more than 220 branches and agencies across the UK. So we are proving that this hybrid model is working for our customers and members.
We know that face-to-face service will continue to play an important part of what we offer. In the past few years, we have opened face-to-face services in towns and cities where we previously didn’t have a presence and we’ll continue to look for more opportunities in underserviced towns and cities.
Yet the pandemic has highlighted two important ways in which our app or the digital approach more broadly has helped our customers.
The first is all about offering customers a choice of access. Digital adoption has understandably sped up as a quick and easy alternative to face-to-face contact.
And secondly, as 2020 has clearly shown us, anyone can find themselves in sudden financial difficulties and end up needing to rely more on their savings.
Put simply, we know customers’ habits are changing but we also know through recent research that over a third of people would still prefer face-to-face service when looking for help, advice and support. So, whilst we should undoubtedly help customers take more control of their savings with our mobile app and online servicing, we’re equally confident that they value the role played by our retail network.
Digital versus in-branch banking can be a highly emotive topic to local communities. If building societies and banks are to genuinely reconnect with local communities, blending the physical with the digital and offering new community services in branch will be critical.
Hybrid money management could be a way of unlocking greater financial resilience for communities right across the country, which can only serve to strengthen financial resilience as we rebuild from the pandemic.
Tina Hughes is Yorkshire Building Society’s Director of Savings.
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