Given the soothing Scottish cadences of the voiceover guy in its adverts, you’d think everything was hunky dory at the Co-op. But today it announced that it will not be giving loans out to any new business customers. A spokesman said that while the loan freeze will not apply to holders of personal accounts, no new companies will be able to join the bank’s client roster.
So what’s happened? Quite a lot, actually. In March, the Bank reported a massive £634m loss for 2012, because impairment losses on bad debts trebled in the period.Then, the bank pulled out of a £750m agreement to acquire the 632 bank branches that Lloyds is trying to offload. And to cap it all, earlier in May, rating’s agency Moody’s downgraded its debt rating, saying that there was a good chance the mutual would have to look for ‘external support’ – possibly even a taxpayer bailout.
Still, every cloud. The Co-op does have some fluffy PR news that it trotted out yesterday (presumably to mitigate the damage of having to announce a loan freeze this morning). Ever wondered what the little headset plug is for on an ATM? It’s for the blind and partially sighted to be able to use them more easily, by speaking the instructions and options to those for whom the screen is not clear enough. Barclays was first to get them, and has around 3,000 in operation, but now the Co-op is catching up fast, with plans to roll out 2,000 before the end of next year.
The Co-op’s announcement came with the news that it already has 400 in operation, and that they are available to all Link and Visa customers. It also plans to make the system available inside all of its bank branches and in the ATMs in all food stores. Head of payments at the bank, David Fawell, said: ‘We are committed to implementing talking and high contrast services on our cash machines. We have started the rollout and by the end of 2013 we'll have 1,000 of our ATMs enabled to 'talk'. Our aim is to extend this out to over 2,000 cash machines which is three-quarters of our entire estate by the end of 2014.’
It would be interesting to know how much the technology is going to cost to roll out – perhaps such an outlay would be best avoided under current circumstances.