/ Money

People-less bank branches? I want more than machines

More bank branches are being opened without human interaction in mind. As machines take over, customers are meant to enjoy faster high street banking, but what happens when something goes wrong?

Last week I received a cheque from British Gas, refunding me for an overpayment on my gas bill. Keen to stick the money in my current account, I hot-footed it down to the nearest branch of my bank in my lunch hour.

After wandering round the branch for a few minutes, I realised there was no counter service – just rows of paying-in and cash machines and a couple of semi-enclosed office “pods” in the middle.

Can’t I have some human help?

But paying-in machines are designed to deal with cheques, right? These days, you don’t even have to put your cheque and paying-in slip into an envelope. You just put them in a pile and pop them into the machine loose. So that’s what I did.

Unfortunately, that’s when the need for a real person became clear. The transaction was refused, because – as it turns out – British Gas cheques are “too big” for many paying-in machines to deal with.

There followed a laborious process in which I got a member of bank staff out of his pod, explained the problem, and tried to convince him to process the cheque manually. He eventually did – but not before he’d tried to direct me to another of the bank’s branches.

A world ruled by machines?

I understand why high street banks use these machines. They can cut queuing times and help customers quickly complete simple tasks.

On the other hand, there will always be certain transactions that need a real human being to get involved. It might be banking your collected coppers, questioning an unexplained transaction on your account, or dealing with a hundred other issues that those paying-in and cash machines simply “cannot compute”.

If it was up to me, there’d be at least one counter – with a real, breathing human being behind it – in every branch of every high street bank.

Yes, it would cost the banks more – but it would also help a lot of people out. In the wake of the financial crisis, banks are still pretty unpopular. If they really do have “human” sides, now’s the time to show them!

Would you like your bank branch to be fully automated, or is counter service important to you?


Sorry – I disagree

I use First Direct on-line service – If I need to put in cash or cheques – I go to a local HSBC branch – this is basically a machine only place – no “human help” in sight – but if anything goes wrong there is an office to supply help. I suggest that would be the case for all so-called fully automatic branches too. Only the outside ATMs will not have any help.

So bank counter service is not important to me at all. – I’ve found the telephone service excellent – I suggest there may well be a similar telephone system in place when banks do go all machine interface.

Totally different from supermarket self service systems – At Sainsburys they do not cope with a normal weekly shopping with trolleys – indeed I’m not allowed to use a trolley with them. So a human cash interface is essential to cope with my weekly shop – unless they wish to restrict me to only buying two bags of shopping at a time.

Denise says:
30 October 2011

I think banks need to be flexible and provide both machines and counter service. My mother will not use the machines in the bank, I’m not too keen on them myself, and she does not have access to the internet. Why can’t banks accommodate everybodys needs.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

Hello, Hmm so to use a debit card / direct debit for payments is alright, but using the machines instead of counter service is not alright? Is it a fear of new technology or inability to adapt to a new environment?


I don’t use online banking. I simply don’t trust it. Yes of course I trust my bank, but things like the prevalence of “phishing” suggest that the banks are up against relentless attacks from criminals, attacks that will occasionally succeed.

As for banks without manned counters, the queues in my local bank suggest to me there is still a demand that is worth meeting, and that I would prefer the banks to continue to provide employment.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

Trust is a matter of knowledge; unfortunately, many people are very computer illiterate. Many people get used to do the same ‘thing’ during all their life and cannot accept any changes. The ‘phishing’ is only successful between very computer illiterate people, to resolve the issue you only need to have a designated (single) e-mail address ONLY for banks and credit card companies, that’s it.

I receive at lest 5 phishing e-mails at work everyday, some of them looks very legitimate from the payment system (PayPal) which I actually use, but do you really think that your bank will call your home and ask your work e-mail address to send you something important? Or maybe, even better, Google you on the internet and contact you via Facebook? Thus, ‘phishing’ is a problem of ignorance and illiteracy.


Frankly “phishing” only works for those who do not read the instructions from their Banks

It is easy – do not give your details to ANY e-mail that asks for it – check first – Your bank will never ask for your details by e-mail.

This is different from giving details when BUYING something.- in essence just like using your credit card in a shop.

In 20 years – I have had just one problem with my credit card – when a criminal tried to obtain money (£3.51) by false pretences – I spotted the unknown amount on-line (I check several times a week) and checked with the bank by telephone to stop the fraud – The bank issued me with a new credit.
card the next day.

I did have two professional “phishing” e-mails that were very convincing – but as always instructed by my bank – I checked with the companies mentioned by telephone and found them to be phony – so forwarded the e-mails to the companies for reference.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

I think banks have to charge, e.g., a subscription fee if customers want to use the ‘human interface’ for depositing a cheque, getting cash out, applying for a new account, etc. Everything is moving forward, to be more efficient, so if some people want to stick to the ‘old school’ why not make them pay for that?

I hate those people, which talks about the weather with cashers; they are ignorant and insensitive to others!


Umm – though I agree in principle to the first part – My on-line Bank First Direct does not charge a subscription fee of any sort (but they also do not pay interest on it either) – The profits they make from my current account pays the administration costs.

Purely as an aside – many people only have the bank teller to talk to all week – so maybe some sympathy is in order??


A good phone system – such as First Direct – is often quicker than doing it on the internet.
Social contact is very important for many people on their own – until I retired and lost the social interplay of work I didnt realise this , I am now far more sympathetic to the “old ladies” wanting to talk about the weather.