Since RBS closed the last bank in our community more than a year ago, ‘local’ now means a 20-mile round trip to the next town. RBS claimed that only 43 regular customers used the branch each week.
Apparently, you counted as a ‘regular’ only if you visited the branch at least once a week, every week. None of the other ‘regular’ customers counted.
So I face a 15-minute drive to the nearest branch then ten waiting to park in the town square.
It’s a busy branch. After a while, I reached second in line when a charming assistant offered to help. The machine takes up to 50 cheques at a time, she said. It sucked my twelve in and spewed them out again. In they went again; and out they came – faster this time. Third time lucky, perhaps, she smiled.
The next time, some were accepted, some became stuck in the machine. Rightly frustrated, my assistant attempted to cancel the entire transaction. No luck. Off she went to retrieve the cheques physically. Minutes passed. Would she try again? I wondered.
Alas, the other machine was in use and Temporarily Out of Use had appeared on my screen. The third machine was for business purposes only.
Sorry, she smiled, handing back my cheques. I rejoined the queue; two new people had joined in front of me. At last, a counter assistant took my cheques and checked dates and signatures but not amounts. They were sent away for that, she explained, “to speed things up”. The queues lengthened: a painter and decorator in overalls, in the middle of a busy day waited; at one machine an octogenarian was receiving a tutorial on how to get cash out; a teller was still involved checking a customer’s large amount of cash.
A customer services adviser took a couple who had been waiting since my arrival into an office only to re-emerge minutes later telling a manager that the computers were down. She would try to find another office.
My former assistant was helping a colleague who was clearly struggling in one of the ‘open’ consulting booths. Nothing seemed to work. The staff were all charming, helpful and resourceful. They were doing their best but their systems let them down.
Since RBS closed the only branch in the burgh, local businesses have been hit by a double whammy. The absence of a bank has had a visible knock-on effect. Like me, many make the trip to the nearest town and so, naturally, save time by doing their shopping there.
The business rates revaluation has meant that one local business has to find an extra £600 every month and other long-established small businesses are suffering. Some will close.
The closure of our only bank, large increases in business rates and the effect of the downturn in the oil industry are having a profound effect on our community.
Do you feel that you’re being served? We don’t.
DE Johnston is an artist and teacher. He lives in Laurencekirk, Aberdeenshire. www.mearnsartist.com