Hot on the heels of our story on bank branch closures in this month’s Mature Times “Bank? What Bank?” RBS have just announced the closure of an additional 162 branches this year, with the loss of around 792 jobs.
This is seen as being the result of the bank’s failure to divest itself of its Williams and Glyn’s branches last year. As a result, RBS have had to review their branch network and the closures announced this week are the result of that evaluation. Basically, branches of RBS and NatWest are too close to each other. For many, this may not be too problematic but some will feel the impact, not least those who will loose their job.
Interestingly, the Unite union, who represent some of the RBS bank staff, has calculated that in the case of 71 of the 162 branches set to close, customers will be forced to make return journeys of about 25 miles to reach another branch. In reality, it doesn’t matter if the round trip is 5 miles or 25 miles, the practicalities of getting to a branch will be very concerning for many, especially those with mobility issues, those who cannot drive, don’t have a car, or don’t have a local bus service.
Lloyds Banking Group have just announced a further 49 branch closures – in addition to the 49 branches announced in 2017. Not only are they cutting the number of their branches, they are also making them smaller. The bank plans to transform a number of its existing branches into new ‘micro’ branches. These new style branches will have two members of staff with iPads (to help customers open accounts, transfer money, arrange overdrafts, apply for credit cards), a video link facility for mortgage interviews, a cashpoint and a paying in machine – but no counter service. A trip to the nearest larger branch will be needed for transactions that most of us would see as ‘day to day’ banking; paying a credit card bill, depositing or withdrawing coins or obtaining foreign currency, to name a few.
All the Banks cite changing customer behaviour as a factor in their decisions to close branches and say that they are looking to find ways to help customers use technology. At the end of last year NatWest announced that there would be staff in branches to help customers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using on-line banking services. They also introduced ‘community bankers’; staff who visit customers in their homes, or at a local community centre, to provide support to those most affected by the recent closures, primarily the elderly and the vulnerable. How long this service will be available for, and whether other banks introduce similar facilities, remains to be seen.
Worryingly, the fall in the number of bank branches has led to a decline in the number of bank ATMs (cash machines). The website Payments Cards and Mobiles states that “at least two machines are removed with each branch closure, resulting in a ten per cent drop in bank ATMs over the last four years”. In addition, there are changes planned in July this year to the way LINK charges those that deploy ATMs (banks included) for its services. The full implication and impact of these changes is not yet known, but they may be significant. All in all, it does not make for an optimistic view of the future banking landscape.
Parliament’s Treasury Committee has highlighted the risk of increased levels of financial exclusion as a result of the increasing number of bank branch closures, and the committee’s chair, Nicky Morgan MP, said: “It’s important for the government to monitor this trend. If financial exclusion is increasing, the government may be required to intervene.” This story seems destined to run and run. No doubt many will study future announcements from all the banks very closely indeed.
We all know that the world is changing and that technology is driving much of that change, but those making decisions that adversely affect our communities should remember that people really do matter; it should not all be about the bottom line. A Japanese proverb says: “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” Perhaps the powers that be need to heed those wise words.