Next week the boss of one of the UK’s largest banking groups will descend on Manchester, to celebrate the opening of the first of Lloyds’ new super-size branches.
At more than 15,000 sq ft (1,394 sq m) – and at a cost of £3m – it is the bank’s most expensive branch ever, and a likely blueprint for other British cities.
But while Antonio Horta Osorio will be all smiles, some of his customers may have mixed feelings.
Banks may be investing heavily in mega branches in the centre of cities, but those in the suburbs are disappearing fast.
In Manchester at least 23 suburban bank branches have closed – or will close – in 2017 alone.
Here, as elsewhere, it is the least prosperous places that appear to suffer the worst.
A short tram ride east from the centre of Manchester is the town of Droylsden.
Its economic imagery is stark.
Even at lunchtime, the 1960s shopping precinct has just a handful of customers, mostly visiting the chip shop.
Lloyds closed its branch here this summer, and NatWest is about to follow suit.
Looking at the empty shops and deserted pavements, it is evident that the banks weren’t the first to leave.
Nevertheless, local councillor Anne Holland closed her Lloyds account in protest.
“It’s making the area look poverty-stricken,” she says.
“I’m really upset about it. They’re no longer a service for people. They don’t care about people like us.”
Lloyds points out that in one of its smaller branches in Manchester last year there were just 20 regular customers a week. And that number was down by a third on the year before.
But not everyone is unhappy about suburban branch closures.
Along the Oxford Road, to the south of Manchester city centre, all three banks are due to close their doors before the end of the year: NatWest, Lloyds and TSB.
However a shortage of customers – known as “footfall” in the industry – is not the problem, as the streets are packed with students from two universities.
Most in the internet generation are not particularly bothered about losing their local branch.
“I don’t go into banks that often,” says student James Charnley.
“I try to do most things online. However it’s nice when you’re desperate to have an actual branch.”
“With online banking it’s not that much of a problem,” says another.
Bye bye suburbia
The branches closing in Manchester this year:
- NatWest: New Moston, Denton, Royton, Hale, Uppermill, Timperley, Marple, Eccles, Ramsbottom, Manchester Univeristy, Droylsden
- Lloyds: Mosely Street, Manchester University, Tyldesley, Droylsden
- TSB: Ashton Old Road, Cross Street, Stockport Street
- HSBC: Manchester University
- Santander: Atherton
- RBS: Little Lever
While branches are closing in Manchester’s suburbs, the city centre is another story.
Walk amongst the crowds in Market Street, outside the Arndale shopping centre, and you can appreciate why the banks are apparently so besotted with the spending power of visitors to the centre of the city.
It’s not just Lloyds.
NatWest, TSB and Nationwide are all in the process of opening new or refurbished branches. Their shiny new buildings jostle competitively within 200m of each other.
The trend towards city centre banking is now pretty well established.
“It’s been going on for some years,” says banking analyst Chris Skinner.
“In the States they’ve been doing it for a long time. They call it a ‘hub and spoke’ strategy, where you have a large hub in the centre of the main city, and then micro-branches and self-service operations for the satellites around the city centre.”
He blames the culture of free banking, introduced by the Midland Bank in the 1970s, which has left banks struggling to make good profits.
While Lloyds admits that the new city centre branch in Manchester is the model for the future, it denies that it is turning its back on the suburbs.
“We are considering opening a small number of these flagship branches in the largest city centres across the UK, under the Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland brands,” says Jakob Pfaudler, Lloyds director of community banking.
“But our investment goes way beyond city centres. We are investing in a number of what we call anchor branches – existing branches in large towns and cities – and community branches in smaller towns and villages.”
Lloyds also has more than 27 mobile branches, particularly operating north of the border under the Bank of Scotland brand.
For those happy to use a city centre branch, the facilities can be much better thank a typical bank.
The new Lloyds branch in Manchester has free wi-fi and recharging facilities for laptops. And local businesses are encouraged to drop in and use the first floor for meetings – whether or not they are Lloyds customers.
If you want to withdraw a valuable item from a safety deposit box, such as a piece of jewellery, there is no need to speak to a member of staff.
Instead, with the help of fingerprint recognition, a robot will find your deposit box down in the vault, and deliver it to you in a private and secure viewing room.
The concept has been described as being more like an Apple store than a bank.
But perhaps what will attract the most attention is the coffee bar.
If you ask nicely they’ll even make a black horse out of chocolate to sit on top of your cappuccino.