This is an increasingly familiar story for towns across the UK. Since 2015, bank branches have been closing at an average of 70 per month with Scotland disproportionately hit, seeing over 400 banks shut during this period. The banks’ answer has been to tell customers to go online, yet nearly one in five people lack the skills or confidence to use online banking. According to research conducted for OneBanks Hub, an even greater number – 22.5 million customers – say they want to continue using a bank.
Use of cash may be in long term decline, with more and more people using cards, phones or even watches for purchases. However cash remains important, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable who may not have regular internet access and rely on cash for budgeting.
There is also an acute problem for small businesses. Recent analysis conducted for the Financial Conduct Authority found that 70 per cent of SMEs say customers expect to be able to pay in cash. So what do the businesses do with the cash at the end of the day?
The Government is well aware of the issue. John Glen, economic secretary to HM Treasury, recently told an audience of bankers that “government is progressing legislative proposals to protect cash for the long term”. The banking industry has its own Access to Cash Action Group, which will launch a tender later this year to roll out shared facilities as low cost alternatives to traditional bank branches. OneBanks Hub will participate in the tender. We area trialling a number of shared banking solutions, geared to the needs of local communities. The most visible of these are pop up kiosks in three Co-op Food supermarkets in Scotland, including in Kilwinning, which can be used by customers of any bank.
While all this action to preserve access to cash is welcome, it’s only part of the story. It’s no good to say: “Many people won’t use digital banking, so let’s try and find an alternative so they can still use cash.” What we need is to help people to go digital at the same time as supporting them if they can’t or don’t want to.
That’s where physical branches, with real people staffing them, can help bridge the digital divide growing in our society. If you go to a OneBanks Hub kiosk our trained staff will help you access online banking. By removing the fear factor from digital banking you can help people access other essential online services – such as shopping or utilities.
There is another reason for trying to maintain some sort of banking presence on high streets, the sense of community. A bank branch, like a pub, a church or a convenience store, creates a reason to get out of your home and meet others. You may not use it a lot, or even at all, but it is good to know it’s there when you need it.
OneBanks Hub is receiving great feedback from the people of Kilwinning and at our other kiosks in the Fife towns of Denny and Lochgelly. We hope we can help people who fear being left behind by the digital revolution.
Duncan Cockburn is chief executive of OneBanks Hub https://onebanks.co.uk/