Welsh government works with building society to set up national community bank

The goal is to establish around 30 new outlets over the next decade, to offset high street bank closures

The Welsh government is working with Monmouthshire Building Society to accelerate the establishment and roll-out of a community bank – Banc Cambria – across Wales, economy minister, Vaughan Gething, has announced.

The programme for government includes a commitment to support the creation of a Community Bank for Wales, to address the “market failure in relation to the gap in provision, the effectiveness and the quality of banking services in Wales”.

Monmouthshire Building Society, working with the Welsh government and Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd (CCL), is working on the project, and says it will develop its approach of delivering a community bank in Wales – Banc Cambria – to provide everyday full retail banking services in communities across Wales by 2023.

It will offer multichannel, bilingual banking services for individuals and small businesses; accessible through telephone, digital, online and face-to-face.

The Welsh government adds that the UK has “one of the least diverse retail banking systems in Europe, dominated by a small number of very large banks, which operate according to a shareholder-value business model, seeking to maximise profits for their owners.”

Vaughan Gething. Photograph: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party
Vaughan Gething (Photo: Andrew Wiard/Co-op Party)

And with traditional high street banks continuing branch closures in Wales, an increasing number of communities across Wales are now left without accessible banking services. Ministers say this is an essential public service – with rural communities and those individuals and businesses across Wales, who are more reliant upon cash, and face-to-face relationship banking, hit the hardest.

According to ONS data, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen by 4,390, or by 39% between, 2012 and 2021. Which? estimates that by the end of 2022, only 277 bank and building society branches will remain in Wales.

Mr Gething said: “Our vision for the Community Bank for Wales is one that is based on the mutual model, owned by, and run for, the benefit of its members, rather than the maximisation of profit for shareholders. It will be a modern, full service community bank, headquartered in Wales, providing access to bilingual products and services, through a range of channels including digital, online and in-branch.

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“The bank will facilitate local investment and enhance community wealth-building, recirculating savings into loans and preventing capital drain. We very much hope it will provide a positive impact on communities and high streets across Wales, improving access to everyday banking services for all citizens regardless of income or wealth, as well as for small businesses across the whole of Wales.”

Banc Cambria cannot replace all the high street bank closures, the team warns; its goal is to establish around 30 new outlets over the next decade – with a focus on communities that have lost provision. It hopes to have a customer launch in 2023.

Mr Gething added: “Delivery of a community bank is a good fit for Monmouthshire Building Society – a Welsh mutual headquartered in Newport. They have been serving and supporting members and communities across south and west Wales for over 150 years. As a mutual, they are already a purpose-led organisation, providing communities with access to financial help and support in locations that are convenient for them.

“While there is still much work to be done, with key milestones and further decision points ahead, we remain committed to providing all appropriate and necessary support in order to help accelerate the establishment and roll out of Banc Cambria across Wales.”

Monmouthshire CEO Will Carroll said: “While this project is in its early stages, the society is delighted to be working with the Welsh government to bring to life the aspiration of a community bank for Wales. We believe that delivering a community bank will support the society’s purpose to bring more relevant services to more members in more places in Wales.”

Alex Bird

Over the past two years, the Welsh government has supported exploratory work undertaken by Cambria Cydfuddiannol Ltd (CCL), a co-op established to explore the creation of Banc Cambria as the Community Bank for Wales.

CCL chair Alex Bird said: “The Monmouthshire are a perfect fit to deliver Banc Cambria. As a modern mutual their focus is on supporting communities and delivering value to members. Working with the team at Monmouthshire, it is clear they are a brand to trust in the marketplace and we are confident that the values we have developed will be in safe hands with them.”