Dear old Golden Brown and the man with the black eyebrows (I wonder if Golden is able to resist the temptation to say ‘Hello Darling’ every time he sees his Chancellor?) has announced the sell-off of branch networks in an effort to re-size the megalithic financial operations and return some money to us…
But I can see a danger for us in EB, and one we’ve faced before.
Some time ago after a high profile merger, one of our best known financial stalwarts of the high street announced they wanted nothing to do with the small business market… to a scream of protest, which eventually led to a retraction.
But what if the branch networks are sold off to businesses who are only interested in the lucrative personal finance markets… what will happen to EB?
And, let’s face it, a couple of names in the frame are Virgin and Tesco. Now, I have to say, being an ex-Virgin myself, the banking experience (the way branches look and the way staff interact) will improve… if you are a personal customer.
But what if you run an EB business in a local community and look to your branch for advice and access to funds?
I’m fairly sure that, whoever takes over the branch networks, will not want to get involved in this sort of business because it is specialized in terms of assessing the business and it can be complex (not difficult, but complex) to make a profit from this sector. All of this means EB has to go somewhere else for help, advice, funds, etc…
The question is, where?
If it were simply a question of training bank staff to deal with the needs of EB, then I would be all for someone like Tesco or Virgin taking over. In my experience the culture of service tends to permeate these businesses in almost exactly the same way it doesn’t with the current incumbents and it could be good for all of us.
But it’s not… simply a question of training. It’s a cultural thing, an understanding of issues faced by us business owners and the pressures we face on a daily basis.
Maybe it could work for EB, but I think we’re in danger of being caught in the middle again, with banks not knowing what to do with us because we’re not quite corporate and we’re not personal, either.
What do you think?