Bank closures: Could Wales community bank be the answer? – BBC News

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Image caption This Barclays branch in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, closed its doors for the last time on Friday

Towns hit by high street bank closures could be helped by plans to create a community bank for Wales.

Assembly research shows more than 200 banks have shut in Wales since 2008, leaving towns such as Newcastle Emlyn and Hay-on-Wye without any.

Banc Cambria would work like a regular bank, with branches across the country, but would be owned by its members.

First Minister Mark Drakeford pledged to set up a community bank in his Welsh Labour leadership campaign.

The Public Bank for Wales Action Group, working with the Community Savings Bank Association, wants to fill gaps left by the departing high street banks.

Banc Cambria board member Mark Hooper told BBC Sunday Politics Wales: “You will be able to have a current account, businesses will be able to have accounts, there’ll be mortgages provided so people will be able to buy homes.

“We’ll also be making sure there’s a superb online presence – people like using their apps. It will be in Welsh and English.”

Mr Hooper hopes for Welsh Government support and wants to be able to start talking about its first investor soon, as it continues to seek funding.

It would then be able to set out a timescale for applying for a banking licence and opening the first branches.

“A bank is a regulated industry, so we need to make sure things are done properly,” he said.

“But we also know that the time is now. Wales is suffering from the loss of high street branches.”

Mark Hooper
Image caption Mark Hooper says the bank will be as important for north west Wales as it is for the south east

The Association of British Credit Unions – which lends money to people unable to use traditional banks – told an assembly inquiry into bank closures that its members already offered some “limited transactional services”.

“A community bank for Wales could augment the work of credit unions by offering a fully-fledged current account service,” the association added.

But it warned that such a bank could duplicate and compete with credit unions.

Matt Bland from the association told Sunday Politics Wales: “We are not entirely convinced that the answer is necessarily a new bank”.

Banc Cambria said it would work alongside the credit union network to make sure “we have something to add to rather than subtract”.

The Welsh Government said it was discussing the proposals with the Public Banking Wales Action Group and Community Savings Bank Association.

“The group has already established a mutual society which will be working towards application for a banking license through the UK financial regulators the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority,” ministers said in a statement.

“The group is at the early stages of this work and we would anticipate that it would take upwards of two years to successfully obtain a banking license.

“This represents an important area of policy for us and we will absolutely support the development work wherever possible, including making use of the very considerable experience that exists within the Development Bank of Wales’ senior team.”

BBC Sunday Politics Wales is broadcast at 12:00 BST on 9 June and then available on BBC iPlayer.

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