/ Money

Bank branches: are we ready to say goodbye?

The way we bank and spend our money has changed at an unprecedented pace, but is society really ready to say goodbye to the bank branch?

Since we first published our magazine more than 60 years ago, we’ve gone from a world reliant on cash to a world dominated by cards and contactless.

From a world with banks on every high street to a world dominated by apps.

For many of us this is a world in which banking is considered easier – just a few taps on a mobile phone can see you doing almost anything from paying for you grocery to paying in a cheque, from giving your friend a fiver to setting up a standing order.

But this world of tech-based banking is not yet for everyone. We’re concerned that there are people being left behind by the industry as it competes for the attention of digitally engaged consumers.

How do people feel about these changes?

When it comes to hard cash, we know that there are still people around the UK who rely on it for a number of reasons.

This can be for budgeting, to make payments where cards are not accepted or as a backup in case something goes wrong.

That’s why we’ve been campaigning hard to get the government to take urgent action to protect access to cash, free of charge, for as long as it is needed.

Our Freedom to Pay campaign: what’s next?

But when it comes to banking, we need to know more about how people feel about these changes and whether we all feel that we are ready or willing to step completely into this brave new world of digital banking.

For this reason, we’ve spoken to more than 120 people around the country over the last three months to find out how they feel about the changes taking place around them. There are already some key findings emerging from our work.

 

In the new tech-enabled world, many of us are seriously considering saying goodbye to the bank branch for good and switching our banking to app-only alternatives.

But as people start to switch to online only solutions, banks will continue to look at ways of saving money and branches will continue to close.

There’s a question we must now ask ourselves: is society ready to say goodbye to the bank branch?

Comments
DerekP says:
2 July 2019

If I have cash or cheques to pay in, I do like to be able to go and do that at a bank branch.

But, other than for that, I seldom ever visit bank branches.

I actually love going into the bank and while I have on line banking I rarely use it. Although I am also one of those people who love a chinwag with people in shops as well. 😉

It is pretty clear from Convos what the views are on physical banks and, for example, access to cash. I’d suggest that we must accept that because so many are happy to bank online, this inevitably impacts on the viability of branches. Because so many no longer use as much cash, a proportion of ATMs will close.

Rather than try to turn back the tide we need to find alternatives that replace these lost facilities to help those who will never, for good reasons, embrace electronic finances.

So, post offices are there to offer basic banking facilities for most bank customers; 11500 more or less replacing the bank branches that have closed in the last 30 years. We can get cash from them as well – replacing many lost ATMs (many that were duplicate machines in close proximity to others), as well as cashback from stores.

We need to take the opportunity to look at ways to extend services such as cash access, with constructive proposals. One is to get small cash businesses throughout the land to dispense money, a move that could reach millions of people who have never had the luxury of a convenient bank, post office or ATM.

What does need addressing is the need some have to meet face to face with their bank to discuss their financial matters – mortgage, overdraft, new account, probate and the like. How to do this? A local office representing all banks has been suggested. Who would or could run such a service?

Personal contact works both ways of course. There is hope for the survival of bank branches so long as the banks need to speak to their customers face-to-face.

Complex documents, loan agreements and things that need to be signed cannot be dealt with over the phone. We have tacitly accepted that if the bank closes a branch we will make a twenty mile round trip to the next town if they want to see us. That should stop; we don’t have to agree to it, and we don’t have to let them into our own homes either.

If they want to sell us an insurance policy, or offer a mortgage, or handle our investments they will have to stay close because there are alternative providers. Perhaps they think they can do it all by post, but we don’t have to accept that since it is not 100% secure. There are ways of signing things on-line but we should not just sleepwalk into that if we are not comfortable with it.

If Which? is going to turn this concern into an effective campaign it needs to explore ways of stopping the retreat of banks from our towns [we’ve already lost all the village branches] and make it abundantly clear to the legislators and the banking regulatory authorities that we shall not put up with it, now or ever. And if they think they can make the services shrivel up through a process of attrition by withdrawing cash, cheques, and other instruments of exchange, then they can think again.

I would like to see two or three more building societies build up to the scale and widespread presence of the Nationwide to provide a viable alternative form of retail banking based on mutual and ethical principles.

Howard says:
2 July 2019

There will always be an occasion when a face to face meeting is desired. Too often telephone queries can be frustrating. When it comes to banking why shouldn’t we have branch access.
The drive to close branches is all about maximising Banks profits and certainly nothing to do with customer service.

There’s beginning to be an assumption that those who don’t trust or adopt electronic banking and payments are the elderly and those who are unable to keep up with change in the digital world. This is something of an insult to those who fully understand the methodology and mechanics of card/phone payment and computer banking but choose not to use it. It is argued that times are changing and we must change with them. The fraudsters certainly are! This reliance on digital technology also relies on a perfect digital network that never fails, can’t be hacked and is invulnerable to rogue states and malefactors. It is an impersonal world where transactions and payments and finance in general is done on a “computer” screen or with tap card or phone swipe. Thus the importance of phone batteries, internet speed and access to the right app at the right time become the financial masters and the humble coin and note cease to exist. I wonder at the social consequence of this state. A non working card, a flat phone battery, some electronic being deciding to bock a payment or a card and no one available to sort it out. No mechanism to instantly replace a lost or stolen card or unblock an account that has been frozen until the computer has got round to dealing with it and no one answering the phones. Charities and small clubs and societies being charged for their new electronic apparatus and accounts.
Perhaps all this is inevitable, but I wonder who ultimately benefits. Will life be any quicker or smoother and will our spending and saving habits change for the better or make it easier to spend carelessly? I suppose I would regret the change because I have lived in a human world until now. Ask in ten years and, maybe, I’ll just shrug a shoulder and tap my card without thinking about it. I hope not.

Ps. Everyone will know what you’ve spent, where you’ve been and what to target you with to get you to part with more money -oops sorry – card payments.

Barclays is still investing in my local branch. They sent me an SMS last week to tell me that my local branch will be close for improvements from 12th July to 12th August 2019. My local branch is head office in Canary Wharf, so it’s hardly surprising.

But I very rarely visit any bank branch. It’s just unnecessary. Everything can be done more quickly and conveniently online.

I am not aware of any bank closures in our town in recent years. There are four in the marketplace and two close by. I’m still registered with the university branch of my bank near where I used to live, but if that closes I will switch to the larger one in town.

For years, my main reason for going to my bank has been to deposit cheques. I usually just put them in an envelope with paying-in slips and drop them in the letterbox when passing. I visit another bank to deposit cheques for a charity. At one of the banks there is someone stationed at the entrance to open the door and greet visitors, which seems a bit pointless.

We are well supplied with free-to-use ATMs, with 12 sites within a quarter of a mile of the marketplace.

For years we had an HSBC bank on the university campus where I worked. It provided banking services for all the main banks. That was a condition imposed by the university. If our regulator had insisted that banks worked together and shared services, it might have been economically viable to have retained some of the banks that have closed.

Doug Knox says:
3 July 2019

Traders are there to trade, to make their living.
Government excess taxes and regulations, discourage trade, deliberately when against tobacco, and as “unintended consequences” when against all else, like transport, parking, payrolls, and businesses.
Cash and banking will find their own best levels, when government interference is less hostile.
Governments can do little directly to help, but should keep out of the way in order to do less damage.
Regards,
Doug Knox. ACIB FCCA

We have lost high street shops because many people have changed to buying online. We’ve lost many local food shops to major supermarkets and have to travel to get to those.Why do we think that, with the huge take up of online services, bank branches should not be affected? New banks will spring up that are online only and, if we paid the real costs of our accounts, banks with many underused branches would become uncompetitive.

Somewhere we have to recognise the effects of change, of altered customer habits, and work towards a solution that helps all as far as possible – but it won’t be everything we have now, nor restoring what has gone. A positive change might be to have some means to represent all banks, or the major ones, in a single local office that would give help and advice to all customers, to meet the needs of those who want face-to-face contact. Routine transactions such as depositing funds, withdrawing money, can be dealt with in other ways, a number of which already exist.

Agree Malcolm. It does mean banks getting together and recognising the need to combine functions while still trading as individual entities. Not a hard thing to actually do, but not one that encourages banks to remain as separate customer organisations. Perhaps these general offices can have sorting departments that channel business from the front desk to the right bank. Who actually funds these offices and in what proportion, is another interesting dilemma. Maybe these front offices are formed by a new organisation that deals solely with cash and cheques and does the day to day bank business for all the banks. The banks would then pay for this service, and so, probably, would we! How then, one got to see someone in one’s own bank, for a mortgage or more involved financial transactions is difficult to know. As it is, on line transactions of this sort are too impersonal for some of us to do this.

You can use a bank that is most convenient to where you live; mine has well over 600 branches. You can apply for a mortgage online, of course, or use a broker to get independent advice. It probably is better for most to look for independent advice when looking at financial products rather than relying on their own bank.

The banks did get together to give the post office the authority to handle basic banking tasks for almost all their customers.