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BM branch closures were tough but fair

It must have been with heavy hearts that the staff of the former society Birmingham Midshires received the news that their 150-year heritage was to be brought to an end. But in a world of pressurised profit margins the decision was inevitable so I doubt it came as a surprise to the workers or the union that represents them.

The once great society movement is not what it was and there is little doubt we are on the brink of losing more well known brands. In truth, there is ample room for further consolidation.

The decision to lose the BM branch brand was a corporate one. Owner HBOS could see no value in retaining duplicated networks in prime retail trading positions. And with Halifax the undisputed lead brand, the economic sense of ditching surplus baggage was surely indisputable, even by the most protective BM customer.

But the emotional cost is likely to be high. Most staff take pride in the company they work for with some devoting their entire working lives to it. So when it comes to management gift wrapping the concept of an individual company’s extinction as being in the group’s best interest it’s a difficult message to sell, particularly to those affected.

At BM, I’m certain that for the past 150 years staff have been toiling away in the belief their company was special. But five minutes under the Halifax banner and it transpires that not only are the fruits of their labours not special at all, they’re actually irrelevant and surplus to requirements. That’s how it will feel.

OK, most workers will be retained within the greater business but it won’t be the same for them. And it’ll be an uphill struggle for management to reassure their people that there’s any genuine commitment to them. The workforce will more than likely consider their words hollow and only valid for as long as the corporate balance sheet makes sustaining them a viable proposition.

But this sad truth is endemic within financial services companies. The lofty virtues of loyalty and commitment, which management expect from the workforce, increasingly travel a one-way street.

But we shouldn’t heap all the blame onto HBOS. It is, after all, only dancing to the national tune. Neither should we forget this is what the BM management signed up to when they came to the ball. Now it’s their turn to boogie.

Expect more industry soft shoe shuffles and some serious rocking and rolling soon. Any bets on whose else’s card is marked?


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