Nationwide logo and high street bank branch in UK city.
Image courtesy of P.Cartwright/

The UK’s retail banking sector has been shrinking year-on-year with several big name high-street banks closing facilities. The Nationwide Banking Society has taken aim at this in a series of ads, but this marketing approach has now faced challenges.

A total of 282 complaints were lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over assertions made in an October and November 2023 marketing campaign by Nationwide, with the bank’s competitor Santander one of those raising concerns.

The first ad in question was a widely distributed TV commercial featuring British-Irish actor Dominic West – known for roles in TV and film such as Jimmy McNulty in The Wire – which took aim at a number of banks for closing branches, comparing this to Nationwide’s services.

Text on screen read “publicly shared branch closures at Lloyds, Bank of Scotland/Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC”, appearing to single out these companies for reducing high-street services.

Similar claims were made in a radio and press ad. The former featured the statement: “Unlike the big banks we’re not closing our branches. Nationwide, a good way to bank. To view our branch promise search” 

The press ad, meanwhile, read: “If we have a branch in your town or city, we’ll still be there until at least 2026. Big banks: Lloyds, Bank of Scotland/Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC. Source:”.

Santander in particular has taken offence at this it seems, as the bank noted to ASA that Nationwide has closed local branches or reduced opening times at some locations, meaning that the advertising claims could be seen as misleading.

In its response to the ASA probe, Nationwide stated that it was targeting existing current and savings account holders whilst also referring to its 2023 branch promise which guaranteed that it would not close any branches until at least 2026.

However, it was also noted that opening hours have been reduced at 88 locations, which were converted to Multi-Skilled Branches (MSBs). On the other hand, ASA states that the bank did provide evidence that the impact of this conversion had been minimal.

In its assessment, ASA has sided with the complainants and told Nationwide to remove the adverts from any future marketing campaigns. The authority stated that this was due to the ads being “seen in the context of financial institutions closing their high street branches, and the ASA considered consumers would interpret the ads in relation to that scenario”.

As noted above, the UK retail banking sector has been shrinking over the past few years, largely driven by increasing numbers of customers moving away from physical services towards digital ones.

Lloyds recently announced a cutback to its ‘mobile banking’ services – meaning an automotive banking service, not the app service – whilst Metro Bank is limiting its opening hours, Sainsubry’s closed its bank and Barclays closed the doors on several branches.

The ASA decision also comes in the aftermath of an expansion of Nationwide’s high-street presence via a buyout of one of its rivals, Virgin Money. The takeover will see Nationwide buy Virgin Money for £2.9bn, subject to some remaining approvals.