Counting the personal cost: the abolition of bank branches does not add up | Banks and building societies

In the past, the main streets offered a choice of three or four banks. Today, 50 branches are closing every month, making what used to be a reliable cornerstone of every city an increasingly rare place.

Earlier this year, the financial regulator called on banks to reconsider the closures, fearing that vulnerable people will be left without access to services.

Consumer group Which? says that since 2015, nearly 4,200 branches have closed. Barclays, he says, has reduced its network the most, with 650 branches closed, or due to be closed, by the end of this year, while the NatWest group – NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank – have closed 1086 branches, and Lloyds 680 Banking Group.

It can be maddening, isolating, and result in long hours of travel if you need to bank in person. Observer readers have raised concerns. 93-year-old man says he can’t afford the £ 20 cab fare to his new ‘local’ Nationwide, 11 miles from his home; a retired woman lacks social interaction since closing her cooperative bank after 35 years; and a 27-year-old man, whose banking life has been spent online, had to travel miles in the height of the pandemic to get simple documents printed for a mortgage application.

We also heard from a woman with early-stage Parkinson’s disease who doesn’t trust herself with online access codes but loses her local branch and now has to use public transportation to get to Nearest Santander.

A reliable face

When she was in the early stages of dementia, Margaret Hughes * was comfortable going to her local bank because she knew the staff and they could help her with her withdrawals.

“She always liked having money in her purse,” says her daughter Anne *. “She was happy to write a check, but she always wanted cash. She would come in because people knew her. As she got older, it became more important… that she recognized a face. And they knew her by her first name.

Before her death earlier this year, Margaret lived in the south-east of England. The local HSBC was closed six years ago and it has been redirected to a branch four miles away in a larger city.

“It was nowhere near a blue badge parking space. So when she had dementia we had the dilemma of, ‘Do I leave her standing alone while I try to park the car, or do I take a really long walk with her, and sit it down for a bit and rest? It was really not good, ”says Anne.

Margaret had never learned to use email or a cell phone, so going to the local branch was her only way to get cash.

“She liked to come in. Giving someone a card and PIN when they started losing their memory meant she couldn’t always do it. She could get some money at the counter. And she was always afraid of losing her card, which happened quite frequently.

Cross-border banking

For artist Morag Eaton, who runs the Foldyard Gallery with his partner Dave Watson in Berwick-Upon-Tweed – a Northumberland coastal town three miles from the Scottish border – depositing his proceeds means traveling to another country.

Originally they had their accounts with Midland Bank and remained there when HSBC bought them in 1992. When they moved to Berwick 11 years ago their nearest HSBC was in Alnwick, 38 miles away. It closed six years ago, so their closest option is now Morpeth, 50 miles south. Instead of driving there, they head to Edinburgh when they need to go to a branch, nearly 60 miles away. “It’s easier to take the train to Newcastle or Edinburgh than to get to Morpeth,” says Eaton.

When their customers pay cash, the couple say they get anxious because they can’t just deposit it because a quick trip to the bank is out of the question.

“Having money in the house is an anxiety for practical reasons, and you need to be aware that you are not just going to use the money if you need it for something.”

There are other banks in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, but Eaton remains loyal to HSBC. “They have been good to us in the past when they could have been very difficult, and we value loyalty,” she said.

This extends to not using the local post office, where they could deposit money directly into their HSBC account, as they are not happy going through a third party.

A problem for aging

Artist Mary Husted first joined Midland Bank, which later joined HSBC, in 1963. When she moved to Barry, Wales in 1979, it was one of three banks on the street. main.

Her local HSBC is expected to close in September and she will have to drive 25 minutes to Penarth. “People could meet someone they could trust, that they knew – they don’t have it anymore. I can do things online, but sometimes they go wrong and then I have to try to find someone on the phone and it can take an hour. Aging is frustrating in other ways; you don’t need these things.

Husted’s paintings sell for between £ 200 and £ 900, and buyers often pay by check. Although HSBC allows customers to deposit checks worth up to £ 500 using their mobile banking app, she says she looks forward to using her phone for banking and always deposits them in a agency.

“I stubbornly refuse to have an app on my phone. Suppose I dropped it or misplaced it? The main thing is trust. How do you trust a voice on the phone? If you have something that is worrying you financially, you might want to go see someone. You know who you are talking to and who they are who they say they are. “

HSBC, the bank used by all customers who spoke to the Observer, says changes to its branch network are needed to make it “future-ready” and that it will require an “evolution” in the way customers do their banking.

“Virtually all customer service can be performed using our mobile app or online banking, including receiving mortgage documents (which can then be printed out at the customer’s convenience), depositing checks , increasing an overdraft, losing or stealing cards, setting up a game of chance, applying for a credit card or personal loan, and much more. “

He adds, “It’s also important to note that customers can also do daily transactions at the local post office, which can be even more convenient than going to a branch.

“We are very aware that some customers will be less confident or less comfortable with self-service options, and we are reaching out to vulnerable customers by phone to discuss an upcoming closure, explaining them and supporting them with alternative means. to do their banking. “

* Names have been changed


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About Kristina McManus

Kristina McManus

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