Is your city about to get a banking center? Jeremy Hunt's has finally succeeded

Small businesses in Haslemere are hoping the welcome return of major banking services to their Surrey town will mean a boost to their fortunes.

A new style hub – a shared branch that customers of all major banks can use – was launched just over a week ago by local MP Jeremy Hunt.

The Chancellor took time to thank The Mail on Sunday for helping to secure a hub for Haslemere. Before cutting the tape to open it, he shook my hand warmly and said, “Thank you. You played your part in this.'

Meeting of Minds: Jeff Prestridge and Jeremy Hunt

The Mail on Sunday has campaigned tirelessly for years to ensure community banks become part of high streets across the country.

Three months ago I visited Haslemere, which lost its last bank two years ago, and asked a simple question: 'If you can't find a bank in Jeremy Hunt's affluent backyard, where can you?'

The hub, in the old Lloyds bank branch, will allow customers of all major banks – individuals, small businesses and charities – to do basic banking such as making deposits and withdrawals.

Most can also contact a representative of their own bank on a certain day of the week if they need advice or assistance.

“It's great news,” said Emma Ganderton, owner of antique shop Notte Della Villa, when I revisited the city nine days ago to watch Mr Hunt cut the blue ribbon with a giant pair of scissors.

From her store she can see people visiting the hub and using the external ATM.

Hub: Just over a week ago, a new style hub was launched by local MP Jeremy Hunt

Hub: Just over a week ago, a new style hub was launched by local MP Jeremy Hunt

Still reeling from the unexpected appearance of film star and former footballer Vinnie Jones in her shop (he didn't buy anything), Emma said the hub is a big boost for businesses like hers, which generate a lot of cash sales.

“I now have a bank that I can walk to instead of having to get in the car to go there,” she said. 'It has also brought many more visitors to my side of town and more people are coming into my shop to browse and buy goods. So I win on two fronts.'

The Haslemere hub is one of 31 hubs introduced to date in towns that were previously left bankless by the withdrawal of all major banks and building societies.

Boost: The Mail on Sunday has campaigned tirelessly for years to see community banks become a feature of the high street

Boost: The Mail on Sunday has campaigned tirelessly for years to see community banks become a feature of the high street

Another 70 are expected to open next year – and more are likely to increase as bank branch closures continue.

John Howells, boss of ATM network Link, believes there could be 1,000 hubs by 2028 as they replace traditional branches in all bar city locations.

1703472149 699 Is your city about to get a banking center Jeremy

Link is currently deciding whether a city that loses its last bank should get a replacement hub or a more automated banking service, such as an ATM or cash deposit.

While other experts believe a smaller total – between 350 and 600 – is more realistic, new rules guaranteeing continued access to personal banking services, which will be introduced by the city regulator next year, should encourage the opening of more hubs.

Gareth Oakley is CEO of Cash Access UK, the organization responsible for getting hubs off the ground. He says there is still a great need for face-to-face banking on the high street.

“If you look at countries like Sweden, where cash has largely been replaced by mobile banking, there is still demand for a personal banking service from the public,” says Oakley. 'I think we will see hubs in our shopping streets for at least another ten years. If any hubs were closed before then, I think there would be a strong political reaction.”

Cash Access UK, funded by the big banks, has been criticized for its slow rollout of hubs, but Oakley says its ability to open them is limited by the availability of suitable premises and the reactive way it is forced to operate.

“We cannot start looking for a suitable property until a hub has been recommended by Link,” he says. 'It's not like the operator of a national coffee shop chain who is constantly scouring the country for attractive locations.'

Derek French has been campaigning with The Mail on Sunday on the need for community banks since the 1990s. He believes that 600 'personal' banking centers could now be launched, complemented by 400 cash deposit services (critical for small businesses).

“I'm glad a hub has gone to Haslemere,” he says. 'It's a town where I worked for a while in the early 1960s as an assistant cashier for a bank that became part of NatWest. It is affluent, has a vibrant high street and needs access to personal banking services.”

This view is shared by many of the companies I visited. Peter Jones owns the cavernous Sports Locker store, a few buildings away from the centre, where he sells everything from running shoes to skiwear.

When I spoke to Jones at the end of August, he could not understand why all the banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest – had closed shop, as well as the nearby local post office. He is now happy that the hub is operational.

He said: 'I use it to pay cash and there are a lot of older residents who will use it.'

Sarah Patrick, manager of charity shop The Tantrum Trust, also welcomes the hub as a large proportion of the shop's income is cash.

She said: “We used to bank with Lloyds so its closure in November 2021 was a real pain. But now we have another banking facility in town that can help both us and our customers.”

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