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The banks keep closing and we keep complaining but does it really matter?

PUBLISHED: 14:04 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 17:08 09 December 2017

Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Bungay, Southwold. Diss, Halesworth. Banks are closing down everywhere. But we can live without them, can’t we, says James Marston

Bungay, Halesworth, Southwold, Diss, Beccles…the list goes on.

It seems that almost all the major high street banks have been announcing branch closures across our region.

As Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland continue the culling of the physical banking branch this week, our high streets are set to change once again.

RBS, which owns Nat West, yesterday announced branch closures across the UK and with it around 680 job losses.

This move isn’t really surprising, more and more of us are banking more and more online. Cash is expected to be around for some time to come but there’s no doubt that contactless payments is soaring and maybe one day we will live in a cashless world.

I can’t see that happening just yet but there is no doubt that technology is changing how we live and how we bank.

So maybe we should accept and embrace that change, after all technology, for many of us, is convenient, and banking online or via a mobile phone app is a quick and effective way of looking after our money.

RBS cited the increase in 
online banking and decline in branch use as the reasons behind the move.

A spokesperson said: “More and more of our customers are choosing to do their everyday banking online or on mobile.

“Since 2014 the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40% and mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same period. “Over 5 million customers now use our mobile banking app and one in five only bank with us digitally.”

As the bank made the announcement RBS also pointed out that plenty of people live near Post Offices anyway.

The spokesperson said that not only is the bank continuing to invest in its fleet of mobile branches but also that: “We have invested in our contract with the Post Office: by the end of H1 2018, 99.7% of all our customers will live within 15 minutes of a branch, a mobile branch or a 
Post Office location. The Post Office has 11,600 branches across the UK and our customers benefit from longer opening hours - with over 4,000 branches open on Sundays.”

This might be the case but earlier this week Ipswich MP Sandy Martin made the point that Post Offices themselves, in his constituency at least, are under threat. He said: “The Post Office provides vital services for many people who are not able to do everything online.

“Many older people are going to find it harder to manage independently at a time when the Government says it wants people to look after themselves for longer. The weekly trip to the post office can be a vital way to keep in touch for vulnerable people on their own.”

While the digital banking revolution might work for some maybe it doesn’t work for all.

Perhaps we have to spare a thought for the older members of our community, those who don’t have access, for whatever reason, to the online digital world. And, indeed, for those who might still like human interaction to be part of their banking experience.

Age UK Charity Director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “Although some good work is being done in terms of digital inclusion, for many older people this Winter these closures will have them feeling high and dry.

“And while alternatives like Post Offices are certainly useful, they are in no way a full replacement for banks due to their limited functionality. While mobile banking works well for some, not all older people use a mobile and network coverage is not reliable in some areas.”

She added: “High numbers of older people - 3 in 5 over 75 - remain digitally excluded for many different reasons: for some the cost of getting online is prohibitively high, some have concerns about security issues amid frequent reports of scams and cyber crime financial abuse.

“In addition, it is not uncommon for older people to 
face increasing difficulties with physical disabilities such as 
sight loss, hearing loss or arthritis, or cognitive decline which can make it difficult to remember passwords and security codes.”

What do you think? Do you think we need branches of banks in every community? Or is the digital banking revolution not such a bad thing?

Write to james.marston@archant.co.uk

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