Jeff Prestridge 

My consumer champions

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

True consumer champions are few and far between.

In my time at the Mail on Sunday, there are three who spring readily to mind. Not all had success, but they still tried to move mountains in order to get a better consumer outcome and so deserve recognition.

Darren Cooke, chartered financial planner with Red Circle Financial Planning, is number one.

As I have said in previous Financial Adviser columns, he is the Braveheart who more than two years ago drew the government’s attention to the scourge of pension cold-calling.

Without his efforts, we would not have legislation in place to fine pension cold callers. Mr Cooke is a champion, plain and simple. He chivvied when others stood still.

My second champion is Derek French, the individual who set up the Campaign for Community Banking Services in the late 1990s and ran it with distinction until its closure in 2016.

A former banker with NatWest, Mr French was convinced he had the answer to bank branch closures in the shape of the community bank. A branch whose running costs would be shared by all the big banks and be one of the pillars behind every community up and down the country.

For years, supported by funding from charities and small business groups, he lobbied furiously for the banks to get together and explore his shared branch idea.

From his home in Hertfordshire, he kept a meticulous database of branches that had been axed and the communities that had been turned into banking wastelands as a result of the banks reneging on commitments not to close the last branch in town.

I spent many a cold winter’s morning with him visiting communities where branches were closing. Everyone we met – be they bank customers, councillors, traders and even bank tellers – understood what Mr French was trying to achieve.

Everyone thought the shared branch idea could work and save the High Street from decimation.

He was desperate for the banks to agree to a piloting of the shared branch idea – a banking model successfully used in the US. But they would not play ball. Bar the occasional pyrrhic victory – where a bank branch closure was postponed or over-turned – he was thwarted.

All that he managed to get from lobbying government – primarily the coalition administration headed by David Cameron – was a requirement for the banks to carry out an impact assessment of any intended branch closure and to make this information publicly available. Nothing to halt the stream of closures.

Mr French said this ‘impact assessment’ has “few practical and sustainable benefits for customers and communities disadvantaged by closures and is probably regarded by the offending banks as merely an irritant to be suffered between announcing and implementing their irrevocable closure decisions”.