Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Saturday, 10 April 2010 15:37 UK

Nationwide to restrict small cash counter withdrawals

By Paul Lewis
Presenter, Radio 4's Money Box

Nationwide branch
Nationwide said its plans will reduce queues

Nationwide Building Society is to stop some customers taking out less than £100 over the counter at its branches.

From 7 June customers with cash cards who want smaller amounts will have to use a cash machine.

The change will not apply to people with debit cards, or those who still use a passbook.

Nationwide said the change was needed to reduce queues in its branches and that there were alternatives for those affected.

But Mike Ivatt, from Kent, told Radio 4's Money Box his 83-year-old father would not feel happy taking out cash in the street and probably could not remember his PIN.

'Sad indictment'

"The service my father has received at the counter has been excellent," he said. "Older people need that service."

He said his father may have to stop doing his own financial transactions.

"Building societies were established to look after their members and it's a sad indictment when a large proportion of those members are going to have to hand over the running of their accounts to other people," Mr Ivatt added.

Two men using cash machines
Nationwide wants customers to make more use of cash machines

Nationwide's divisional director of the branch network, Graeme Hughes, told Money Box that the change was essential.

"About a third of all counter transactions are carried out by less than 8% of our customer base," he said.

"And the other 92% say 'what can you do to speed up the queues?' So what we're trying to do is to look at alternative ways of dealing with these customers."

He said people could change accounts, or use cash machines.

"I do recognise that for some customers, what we're asking them to do won't be particularly good for them," he said.

"What we are looking to do is help them use the cash machines, so we are giving them two months' notice so that we can talk to customers to help them."

Cheque changes

However, Nationwide is telling another group of customers that they will have to queue up.

On principle, I thought the building societies might be different
Steve Harrison, Nationwide customer

It is withdrawing the use of FAST/Selfserve machines for the paying-in of cheques of more than £1,000 - the current limit is £10,000.

The reason given is that larger cheques are more likely to be fraudulent and counter staff would be more likely to spot them.

But Steve Harrison, a Nationwide customer from Lancashire, thought there was another reason.

He said: "It seems like they're trying to get rid of relatively poorer customers and the low value transactions, and trying to focus on selling products, which the banks have done for a long time.

"On principle, I thought the building societies might be different."

The Nationwide leaflet which explains the change says it will "fight fraud as well as giving you the opportunity to talk to one of our consultants to try to help you get the most from your money".

Mr Hughes denied that the change was to do with selling better-off customers other services.

"By reducing the amount to £1,000 we are trying to protect our members," he said.

Nationwide is also introducing a £10 charge for drafts of less than £1,000 obtained at the counter, and the same charge for stopping a cheque.

What do you think of this new policy?

Is it reasonable to turn customers away from the counter if they are withdrawing £100, or less?

How important is it that building societies offer a more personal service to customers than banks do?

Do you think building societies are becoming more like banks in their approach to customers?

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