The Future of Business Development – foreword from Newcastle Building Society
Foreword – Stuart Miller, Newcastle Building Society
In February 2020, Newcastle Building Society opened two new community branches in the rural towns of Wooler, Northumberland and Hawes, North Yorkshire. The move attracted national attention – reversing a trend of UK financial institutions abandoning our high streets. But by investing in their branch network, the Society was fulfilling a commitment to maintain and grow access to face-to-face financial services.
Less than a month later, the UK was plunged into lockdown as the COVID pandemic changed lives overnight. You would expect an organisation so committed to our high streets to find lockdown impossible – with hospitality and retail businesses closed, town centres deserted and stay-at-home orders in place, how would face-to-face service cope in a world of social distancing?
However, as a provider of essential services, the Society’s branch network remained open throughout the pandemic, and colleagues were quick to adapt to a new way of working to serve customers safely.
Customers’ access to cash was protected via a new partnership it created with the Post Office to provide local cash access to vulnerable customers in the event of an unavoidable branch closure.
Branches were completely re-organised, with screens, face masks, hand sanitiser and hourly cleaning routines meaning that they could stay open for those customers who needed access to this essential service. Contactless technology is now being deployed in branches to reduce the handling of cash.
For those that could not get into the branch new processes were created, with services offered by phone, video or post depending on the individual circumstances of each customer.
The Society invested heavily in developing a new ‘localised’ website which uniquely allows visitors to tailor their content to their local branch and area. And to help customers easily find relevant information online, QR codes were added to colleagues’ business cards.
Colleagues even found new ways to volunteer in their communities. With the help of an app they were able to support vulnerable people remotely or undertake Covid safe tasks such as gardening or dog walking for people who could not leave their homes.
The pandemic has reminded all of us of the value of connection and community. The Society was lucky that as an organisation with these values at our heart we were well placed to adapt to our customers’ changing needs.
We were by no means the only organisation to grapple with those changes – our high street neighbours were forced to change how they welcomed customers, and so too our colleagues in the wider business community changed how they interacted with clients.
When faced with rapid change like this, it’s important to work together and learn from each other.
That’s why we’ve been delighted to work with the Chamber on this report, which brings together some of the best North East thinking on the future of business development, as well as case studies of businesses like ours who’ve made those changes.