Nationwide’s ‘not closing our branches’ ads banned by watchdog

Nationwide survey Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Ads for Nationwide featuring actor Dominic West have been banned for misleading consumers into thinking that the bank – unlike its rivals – would not be closing its branches.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated the TV, radio and press ads, in which West plays the boss of a fictional rival of Nationwide, following 282 complaints.

One of those was from Santander, who understood that Nationwide had recently closed or reduced opening hours at a number of branches, and challenged whether the ads were misleading.

In the television ad, West, who recently played Prince Charles in The Crown, jokes about a large expenses bill for a company lunch before going on to talk about cutbacks and closing the branch.

One of the Nationwide ads banned by the ASA Credit: ASA/PA

When a colleague says that Nationwide – seen from their window over the road – is not closing branches, West replies: “We’re not Nationwide, are we?”

A voiceover at the end says: “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches,” while on-screen text reads: “Publicly shared branch closures at Lloyds, bank of Scotland/Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC.”

The radio ad featured a similar conversation, with the colleague saying: “Boss, news from Nationwide,” and “They’ve just confirmed they’re keeping branches open,” before a voiceover said: “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches.”

The press ad featured the text: “Going, Going, Nowhere” and “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches”. Small print at the bottom of the ad said: “If we have a branch in your town or city, we’ll still be there until at least 2026.”

Nationwide said it launched its original ‘Branch Promise’ in 2019 not to leave a town or city where there was no other Nationwide branch, and strengthened this in 2023 to guarantee they would not close any of their branches until at least 2026.

The bank told the ASA they had closed 20 branches in the last 18 months, including two in 2023, but had the largest remaining number of branches of 10 banks and had closed the smallest percentage of its estate.

They also supplied an article from consumer magazine Which?, that recommended Nationwide as a building society for consumers who still valued face-to-face contact.

The ASA said viewers were likely to miss qualifications within the ads that bank’s ‘Branch Promise’ would be in place until ‘at least 2026’.

It also understood that in the 12 months before the ad campaign, Santander had closed fewer branches than Nationwide and, at the time the ad was seen, Santander had not announced that they would be closing branches in the future.

The ASA said: “We acknowledged that over a 10-year period, in comparison to other financial institutions, Nationwide had closed the smallest percentage of any financial institution’s estate.

Actor Dominic West starred in Nationwide’s television adverts Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

“However, we noted that they had nevertheless closed 20% of their estate, which equated to 152 branches, and we considered that was a significant number that had been permanently closed.

“We also understood that since Nationwide had launched their original Branch Promise, in the 18 months since July 2022 they had permanently closed 20 branches. Of those 20, 14 had been closed in the 12 months preceding the campaign, with two of them having been closed in 2023.”

The ASA concluded: “As above, we understood that Nationwide’s Branch Promise was only valid until 2026, at which time Nationwide could begin to close branches permanently.

“We considered those factors relating to previous, recent branch closures and the effect on future branches in the long term were likely to be significant to consumers when making decisions about whether to choose Nationwide, in the context of the claims made in the ads that Nationwide were not closing their branches.

“Because we considered that consumers would understand from the ads that Nationwide would not be closing branches in the long-term future and that they had not recently closed branches, we concluded that the ads were misleading.”

The watchdog ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form, adding: “We told Nationwide Building Society not to mislead in relation to the closure of their branches.”

A Nationwide spokesman said: “We recognise the ASA’s decision and are delighted to have the opportunity to make even clearer our now extended branch promise to keep every branch open until the start of 2028.

“The investment we have made to keep branches open means we now have more than any other brand and are the last one standing in more than 90 communities.”