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Date: 2 December 2014

Today's Topic: Rural Bank Branch Closures

Triggers: Personal Experience

My Grump: The disruption caused by banks closing willy-nilly

Campaigners are quite rightly condemning the rapid closure of banks in rural communities, because of the way it leads to the deterioration of many small towns, the closure of their high streets and the isolation of the general population. I'm sure, if you live in one of the towns or cities around the country, this is of no concern for you because the effect on you is virtually nil. But those of us who live in the country see our towns and villages dying around us; some now are bank-less, shop-less and post office-less.

Last year, 243 small and rural branches were closed down following the rise in internet and mobile banking, which has grown by over 200 per cent in the last four years. Of these 243, 116 were the last bank in town. Since 1989, the number of banks in rural areas has reduced by a half.
bank logos
There used to be a pledge to keep open the last bank in town, but, the UK’s major banks, which includes the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Lloyds, have all refused to renew the pledge that committed them to maintaining branches in rural areas, even if they were the ‘last bank in town’ in some instances.

People are increasingly being encouraged to use the 11,500-strong network of post offices for simple banking transactions, and if that were all the banking we ever did, it would be a good thing.

Small businesses need to have good facilities on hand and the post office is not geared up for this, or to replace the banks ability to service the significant part of the population who physically need to go into a local branch to carry out transactions and sort their affairs.

Many of those affected by bank closures will be elderly people who do not have sufficient access to digital banking services and are now facing long and potentially expensive journeys to their nearest branch. I can do online banking, and do, but I can't pay in cash or cheques through an online banking system, I can only transfer what's already there. In the meantime, my nearest branch is 10 miles away. That's a gallon of gas just to pay in a few cheques.

Two ideas that strike me as feasible:

1.) If you are the last bank in a village or small town, it may be that your local population are elderly, or not so very mobile. Liase with the local Post Office to send a letter out to every household in the surrounding area (this will incur a charge, but it will be worth it) offering to open new accounts for anyone in the area that doesn't have one with you already.

So if for example, you're the last Lloyds branch for miles, and all the others, like Nat West, HSBC and Barclays, have closed, it stands to reason that many people will have accounts with these banks they can no longer use as easily as they once could. By writing a cheque from the old account into their new account will mean you have many more reasons to keep the building open and staffed, perhaps for longer than the 2 or 3 days a week that seemed to make it uneconomic in the first place.

Idea number 2.) In the last bank, keep one till open for each branch that has shut down. Better still, rebrand the bank each day to a new bank. Barclays on Monday, Lloyds on Tuesday, Nat West on Wednesday and so on. All it takes is a board in the window to say who you are for that day. All the banks spread the cost of the upkeep of the building, which was previously 100%, now down to 20% for a five day operation, and only a mere 17% for a six day operation. The locals would soon get the idea which day was their day.

On the other hand, this may be an opportunity for a new banking business to take over, with the same staff covering all the main high st banks. That way the banks don't even need to have a physical presence in the area, just a data stream to their clearing houses.

Please share your thoughts below, thank you.

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