As Community Banking Director for South London, looking after 44 branches, Paul Turpin knows first-hand about the challenges his customers face. From helping former prisoners open their first bank account to protecting the elderly from fraudsters, he explains why he is so passionate about helping his local community.
What are the particular challenges in your local area?
In our part of South London it’s quite a challenging area. My office is in Lewisham and whether you’re looking at here or Peckham or Brixton, it’s a really tough environment. There is high unemployment, quite a high crime rate, a lot of young people not in employment, education or training. We tend to have customers come in to ask for unsecured lending. We’ll often have to say no because they don’t have the credit rating they need.
We recognise that every customer or potential customer has their own story and we want to treat all our customers fairly. We might see people who have just come out of prison, who’ve never been in employment in their lives, or who have only ever had a postal account. It’s quite daunting if you’ve never been into a bank to go in and find out about opening an account. It all feels very official and you might feel like you don’t know the rules. It’s natural to you or me because we’ve been employed. But we have a responsibility not to think that it’s the norm for everybody.
How have you gone about trying to tackle these issues?
I felt we have a responsibility to educate the customers who we say no to. So we invited a credit union to come and explain to us what they can do. Now, before a customer leaves we can send them to see the credit union before they go down another, perhaps more expensive, route. In some cases we have even booked appointments for them. What we are able to do is to make credit unions the next port of call for customers that we unfortunately can’t help.
We also did some work reaching out to residents of council estates who didn’t have a bank account for whatever reason. This was around Universal Credit where (benefit) payments have to go into a bank account. So now we go into the community centre and might see eight or nine members of the public and explain how it works. If people aren’t able to come to us, we need to go to them.
You cover such a large area, with huge variation in wealth, social background and age. Do other parts of your patch face different problems?
In somewhere like Blackheath, we have a responsibility around an aging population. We see an awful lot of fraud against elderly customers, with fraudulent tradesmen duping them into thinking work has to be done on driveways, then fleecing them for thousands of pounds. We work with Trading Standards to make sure we look after our elderly customers as best as possible.
Last year we also partnered with South London Cares, an amazing organisation that brings together young professionals and older neighbours to try to bridge the generation gap and reduce isolation. We helped residents become more digitally savvy with emailing, texting, face-timing family and with online banking training.
Why do you feel this kind of work is important?
We don’t do any of this to get a reaction. It’s being done because we have a social responsibility as a blue-chip firm in our towns to help people move forward. It’s not to win friends, influence or commercial gain. We are a commercial bank and it’s our responsibility. If you are a tiny firm with five employees, you may not have the scale to help in this way. We have hundreds of employees and we are across our communities in a big way. We touch an awful lot of lives.
Have attitudes towards social responsibility changed in the financial sector?
I think that, as a bank, our social responsibility agenda has changed. I’ve been at Barclays ‘man and boy’, starting as a cashier 27 years ago. It used to be about going to a school and painting the walls. Now the agenda is about the social and economic impact of what we do. That has changed positively for us. When the communities we live and work in thrive, we do too. You don’t see local banks being talked about in a bad way.
Does growing up in the local area make you particularly determined to help?
Yes. I grew up in Beckenham and Bromley and have always lived and played sport in the area. I have extended family across all the boroughs in my community. I do feel it’s my responsibility to help people move forward. I’m in a privileged position and feel it’s my duty to at least try and make a difference.