Banks left struggling by the current financial climate are pinning their hopes of recovery on the humble Guernsey tom.
Some of the best known names in the local finance industry are moving in to the hedge-veg sector hoping to buoy-up balance sheets and turn around flagging profits.
Natwest, part of the embattled Royal Bank of Scotland Group, was the first to roll out home-grown vegetable and flower stalls at their local branches. “The potential for rapid growth in this industry was obvious to us,” said Branch Manager Steven Alps, as he restocked the wooden crate which has replaced the branch’s Mortgage Advisory desk.
“Last week alone we cleared almost 60 pounds from our high street stall – that’s already made us RBS Group’s most profitable business this year.”
Alongside mortgages and home insurance Natwest are offering daffs for 75p a bunch and Guernsey toms for 90p a bag, although a transaction charge of 18% is added to each purchase which, Mr Alps says, covers necessary administration overheads.
Other financial institutions have quickly followed suit. At HSBC every inch of free office space has been devoted to the new venture. “We filled the empty vault with topsoil and are expecting out first harvest of green beans next week,” said Marleen O’Conlay, HR Manager, while watering a row of seedlings in a filing cabinet drawer.
“Our Managing Director is working really hard on knocking up the Veg Box from unused desks and the Marketing Department has got a strategy for some really eye-catching roadside signage.”
“All of our cash machines will now dispense slices of homegrown cucumber, tomato and lettuce leaves instead of cash.”
THE CAULI OF MONEY
Lloyds Banking Group, whose subsiduary HBOS recently filed pre-tax losses of £10.8 billion for 2008, are also eager to reverse their fortunes with kerbside trading. “We’re keen to innovate the market,” says Andrew Pazza, Director of Trading (Veg).
“For instance, from next week our customers will be able to withdraw hedge-veg from our ATMs. All of our cash machines will now dispense slices of fresh homegrown cucumber, tomato and lettuce leaves instead of cash.”
Whether dabbling in low-margin fruit and veg sales can see banks through the recession or recover losses amounting to hundreds of billions of pounds remains to be seen. Bankers though, are overwhelmingly positive: “We’re making a clear profit of 30 pence on every bag of toms,” says Natwest’s Gilda Lacroitte.
But the new financial model has not been without its problems. Last week a Natwest stall at Route Militaire offering carrots, cooking apples, mortgages and business loans had its sizeable cashbox stolen.
“We were extremely careful,” pleaded a Natwest security agent.”We’d secured all the bank’s assets in the cashbox with two padlocks, a sturdy chain and a heavy concrete block but when we returned for the takings – they were gone. We’re now asking people to put their mortgage payments through the letterbox.”
Shareholders admitted that while the freshness and quality of the produce was excellent they have concerns about dividends being paid in fresh crab (Tuesdays to Saturdays), marigolds and new potatoes.
Customers too are wary of the new direction. Mary Keene, a long time Lloyds TSB customer who went to the High Street branch to cash a personal cheque but left instead with a small bunch of freesias, commented, “They are lovely, but how long will they keep my electricity meter running?”