>UWE’s NatWest Bank to shut its doors on students

The Royal Bank of Scotland has recently announced that they will be closing UWE’s NatWest bank in late April.

On 6 February, a notice was displayed on the branch’s window stating: “We will be leaving The University of the West of England permanently from 4.30pm on Monday 30 April 2012”.

Having resided on the campus for over 30 years, NatWest’s comparatively short withdrawal notice of two months has raised questions and concerns, primarily; why is the bank closing now, how will students be affected and will an on-campus branch service be provided in future?

Without any prior notice of the closure from UWE, the first port of call for answers was Vice Chancellor, Professor Steve West, who revealed that the decision to leave Frenchay Campus was in fact made by NatWest rather than the university itself. He advised: “We must recognise that there are commercial considerations for the bank, which are outside our direct control although we are doing our best to influence these issues.”

In response, a NatWest spokesperson has stated: “Closing a branch is not a decision that we take lightly. Having reviewed the service at our UWE branch we have taken the difficult decision to close on 30 April as the demand is no longer sufficient to justify the service.”

WesternEye’s source went on to proclaim: “Our customers will continue to receive a full banking service at our nearby branches where the staff from UWE branch will be re-deployed. This includes Filton branch, which is just over a mile and a half away, and three other branches situated within a three mile radius. Customers also have 24-hour access to our telephone, online and mobile app banking facilities.”

However, one aspect that concerns many students is the loss of the cash services on campus. NatWest’s spokesperson responded: “We are working with the university to try and ensure that we can retain a cash machine on campus.”

Will external services be sufficient for everyone though? And what are students’ views on the matter?

UWESU’s President, Colin Offler and Education Vice President, Olly Reid were first in line to tackle these questions, immediately spearheading a campaign to maintain the branch’s presence on campus and negotiating between apprehensive students and the University.

Olly Reid revealed: “Within ten minutes of setting up the Facebook page [UWESU Quest to Save Campus Bank], I was contacted by disabled students who thought the move would cause problems for them.”

He continued: “I think it will have a massive effect on both staff and students. If they were shutting a branch within a community of 3000 people, there would be a massive uproar. With staff and students who live both on and off campus, we are also a community.

“I think international and disabled students will be affected most.”

The Vice President’s points appear to be on par with students’ views as Katie Wedd, an undergraduate studying Psychology said: “The bank is extremely important to students on campus as most of the campus facilities such as Onezone do not accept card payment. It is unusual for students to carry much money around with them. Therefore I have made use of the bank several times this year.” 

Charlie Roper, an undergraduate studying politics, stated: “We all know that students face financial struggles on a daily basis. NatWest’s withdrawal from UWE [will] not only make life harder, but it raises concerns for disabled students and for international students who use the bank to transfer their money to live. It’s going to be tough without a bank.”

Based on responses to the aforementioned Facebook page, Olly Reid highlighted: “A lot of students feel cheated because they were not told at the start of the academic year. It’s an unfair approach to business. A lot of them will have chosen to go with NatWest for convenience. Students that live on campus start in September, see that there is a branch and therefore choose NatWest.”

So what options are available to students and what will be provided in its place?

As part of the campaign, Reid has been communicating with NatWest. “They’re pulling out before the end of term, around Student Loan time, we asked them to stay until the end of the year and they basically said no.”

The campaign has been moderately successful thus far, as Reid disclosed: “We are looking for the provision of another bank on campus. NatWest confirmed that they will keep the cash points. Eventually we will lobby to get another bank but that’s difficult to negotiate whilst NatWest are still in place”.

The University are also endeavouring to do their part to ensure that students are not deprived of alternatives. Steve West has confirmed: “We are working with the bank to identify how best to provide services on campus. This includes cash machines and other services. Other banks may be interested if NatWest decides to close this branch and we will be following up discussions should the need arise”.

Mr West continued to state: “We recognise the importance to our staff and students of these facilities and we are doing everything we can to explore a range of options to secure a level of service that is commercially viable for the banks.”

A major disadvantage to some and perhaps just a nuisance to others, the closure of the branch will be felt by many, and if indeed UWE and UWESU are successful in finding a replacement service, it may well be up to students to ensure that it is utilised in order to avoid a similarly unsettling state of affairs in future.

By Aminah Jagne