Nottingham Building Society has acquired seven branches of rival Norwich & Peterborough, with the aim of building a high-street presence to plug the advice gap.
The building society said branches can have a future if banks and building societies change their role to cater for those finding it increasingly difficult to access financial advice, help and service on key financial issues.
Its latest acquisitions – seven branches from the Norwich & Peterborough Building Society that are being closed down across the Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk – mean the Nottingham has taken on 19 branches from other providers.
According to consumer group Which?, over one thousand bank and building society branches closed between 2015 and 2016, and over 600 are expected to close this year.
Yet the Nottingham, whose branches offer savings products, whole of market advice on mortgages and financial planning, and estate agency services, said its new approach had been a great success.
The latest round of takeovers brings the building society’s branch count to 67 – up from 32 in 2012 – and it claims footfall has risen by 10 per cent in recent years.
Research by The Nottingham suggested 75 per cent of people think it is important to have access to face-to-face advice in a branch, and if branches offered more services, 42 per cent of people would visit them more frequently.
The building society's chief executive David Marlow said: “Branch closures are leading to more people finding it difficult to access face-to-face advice and service when it comes to dealing with key financial issues in their lives.
“This is particularly true in market towns, where much of our focus is placed. Sadly there are now as many as 1,500 towns in the UK that used to have branches but no longer do.
“Our unique ‘all-under-one-roof’ strategy of offering a wide range of building society and estate agency services to our customers through our branches has fuelled our recent strong growth and as more banks close their branches, we plan to open more.”
Jane King, independent mortgage adviser at London-based Ash-Ridge Asset Management, said she thought the move was a “great idea” – providing Nottingham can overcome the public’s distrust of banks and building societies.
“The Financial Conduct Authority has got us into this situation [through the Retail Distribution Review] and now they have turned round and said there is an advice gap,” she added.
“The trouble is people still distrust banks and building societies, rightly or wrongly, because of various mis-selling scandals, and I think even the Nottingham will struggle to get the public to trust them.
“But a lot of industries are going back. I have got clients that would not dream of using a computer to advise them – especially older people – and if they can get over that public distrust, I am all for it.”