Savers Queue Again, Deserting Northern Rock


Queues of Britons bent on getting their money out formed at Northern Rock's bank branches for a third working day on Monday in defiance of reassuring words from government and management.

Some joked that their money would be safer bet on horses or stuffed under a mattress -- anywhere but in a savings account run by this high-profile British victim of a global credit crisis.

Northern Rock, the country's fifth largest mortgage lender, has been in a tailspin since financial authorities stepped in to rescue it on Friday.

"I tried to access my Internet account but I couldn't, so I've come here in desperation, hoping I'll be able to access it in person," James Docherty, a retired physician said outside the branch near London's bustling Oxford Street.

"The first thing is to take the money out -- the next is to see where the safest place to put it is."

The Newcastle-based bank, provider of one in 13 British home loans, sought to reassure customers that its plunging share price could not affect their savings.

"Your money is safe with us and if you want some, or all of it back, then you are perfectly entitled to it. Whilst you may have to wait a little longer than usual to receive it, you will get it," Chief Executive Adam Applegarth said in a message posted on the bank's Web site Sunday.

Bank Says It's Solvent

A letter circulated among the queues sent a similar message.

"Remember that the share price does not impact on your savings," the letter said. Northern Rock shares fell almost 40 percent on Monday after a more than 31% drop on Friday.

The country's financial authorities have been at pains to stress that the company is solvent, and that its mortgage portfolio is of good quality, almost entirely untainted by exposure to so-called "subprime" U.S. lending.

But the sight of long queues was enough to sway many customers to join the herd.

"You don't want to lose your savings just in case Northern Rock does collapse," said Barbara Williams, a retiree in London. "We thought we would do what everybody else is doing."

One queue of more than 200, many of them elderly, stretched around the corner. Some came prepared with folding chairs, and though frustration was evident, the crowd remained orderly and polite.

"I'm going to have to come back morning, noon and night until such time as I get through," said Karen Dawson, a lawyer who arrived nearly 45 minutes before the bank opened on Monday after struggling to get through by phone and via Internet.

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme, Britain's fund of last resort for bank customers, protects account holders, guaranteeing up to 31,700 pounds should a bank default.

A handful were happy to accept that Bank of England support was a solid guarantee.

Karen Harms, retired head of an educational charity, was waiting to withdraw money for an upcoming holiday but planned to leave the bulk of her savings in place.

"This bank is guaranteed by the Bank of England, the next one may not be," she said.