19 Jun 2015

Debt, trust and borrowing lie at heart of new BBC/OU series

The Bank

The Bank

With unique, behind the scenes access, The Bank: A Matter of Life and Debt, features the straight-talking staff and customers of a branch of NatWest in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire as they deal with their personal finance issues.

Produced in partnership with The Open University, the three-part series was filmed over a year and explores the relationship between the public, the bank and our money and follows the bank’s efforts to win back the trust of its customers. With faith in the banking sector at an all-time low, customers are quick to get angry when things don’t go smoothly. Reflecting the reality of how money affects all our lives, the episodes deal with ‘Trust’, ‘Love and Money’ and ‘Lending’. Bailed out by the Government after the banking crisis, NatWest (part of RBS), is 79 per cent owned by the tax payer. Although Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, recently announced that he will begin the process of returning RBS to private ownership in coming months.

OU Academic Consultant on the series was Martin Upton, lecturer in finance at The Open University Business School (OUBS), one of the leading business schools in the world. He is particularly concerned about the issue of personal debt, which he believes has been overshadowed in recent months by the debate on pension reform and the new financial freedoms given to those approaching retirement.

He says “This has drawn attention away from the issue of personal debt in the UK, which stands at a record level of £1.47 trillion. With interest rates and price inflation forecast to rise again in the coming years, many more households will again struggle to manage their debts. Interest rates have been at an historic low level for over six years now but the household debt mountain has not gone away.”

Martin Upton is also director of the Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance (PUFin). Launched by OUBS in 2014, it aims to empower the UK public to better manage their finances. The centre has produced two free online courses (Moocs), Managing My Money and Managing My Investments. To coincide with the screening of The Bank, a free, short interactive has been created on OpenLearn, the OU’s free learning website -
Understanding personal finance: money, money, money.

In the first episode ‘Trust’, we meet Claire, the enthusiastic, deputy bank manager, who has 12 weeks to improve customer service score at her branch. Customer, Chris believes he’s been given bad advice on a mortgage and Tracey is thousands of pounds in debt and in danger of losing her home. Claire and her team are under pressure to get it right but admit that while the banks have got it wrong, the customer has to take responsibility, too. Can they convince the people of Huddersfield that NatWest is putting the customer first and is it fair for customers to blame the bank every time?

The programme asks what the relationship between us and the bank tells us about our relationship with money and in particular, personal debt.

Episode two, ‘Love and Money’, looks at how both customers and staff must juggle money and their hearts. It reveals how romantic and family relationships can get tangled up with money. Issues including divorce, first-time home buying, pension dreams and shopaholics are all played out in the real lives of branch staff and customers. Even deputy manager Claire is not immune, living at home with her parents until she can afford to get a foothold on the property ladder.

As household debt in Britain hits £1.47 trillion, episode three, ‘Lending’, sees Claire focus the team on lending money to customers: Brian and Elizabeth, looking for a loan to cover a £27,000 debt on seven credit cards; Farid, who came to the UK aged 17 from Afghanistan and is now seeking to buy his council flat; and John, who wants to borrow half a million pounds for his luxury housing development.

Will the branch reach its annual profit target and help to bring the bank into profit for the first time since the banking crash in 2008? The bank needs to lend money to make money but the series questions why we borrow so much.

The first episode of The Bank: A Matter of Life and Debt, starts on Tuesday 23 June at 9pm on BBC Two.

Viewers can continue the learning journey with the OU and access free learning resources on money and personal finance, including the basics of borrowing, getting on top of personal debt and managing your money. For more information, visit: www.open.edu/openlearn/thebank

The Bank: A Matter of Life and Debt (3 x 60)
Broadcast Commissioner for the BBC – Emma Willis
Executive Producer for the BBC – Jane Merkin
The Executive Producer for The Garden Productions – Zac Beattie
Broadcast Commissioner for The Open University – Caroline Ogilvie
Academic Consultant for The Open University – Martin Upton

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