Banks should think again about closing branches

The theme from Sandra White MSP’s debate yesterday in the Scottish Parliament about the latest round of closures, this time from the Bank of Scotland was clear. MSPs, and the public, are getting fed up of closures and feel that banks don’t really care about the needs of all their customers.

Bank branches across Scotland have been closing at an alarming rate. In the last seven years, the number of bank branches in Scotland has reduced by a third. While many people now do their banking online, it’s too easy for banks to forget that not everyone uses the internet or feels confident banking online.

Indeed, 37% of people over the age of 60 in Scotland do not use the internet – the equivalent to the size of Edinburgh’s population at 500,000. This is hardly an insubstantial number of people.

In pushing ahead with branch closures and the relentless push to digital services, banks are at risk of alienating a huge chunk of the Scottish population – not just older people.

Older people tell us that bank branches are important to them. It came through loud and clear at a town hall event Age Scotland ran with the Bank of England earlier in the year.

They tell us that they prefer having a face-to-face conversation about their finances with a real person. And as older people are more likely to be targeted for scams, they feel that having the ability to speak to someone and show them what their concerns are is important. It’s also a way to ensure that banks are fully aware of all attempts of fraud and scams affecting their customers.

People shouldn’t be disadvantaged for making the choice to bank offline.

One caller to the Age Scotland Helpline told us that after forgetting her account password, a telephone advisor told her she would have to “pop in” to her nearest branch. The only problem was that she lived in rural Perthshire and the closest one involved a journey of almost two hours on two different buses

Not only do we have a rapidly ageing population in Scotland, the number of people living with dementia is also predicted to rise by 50% in the next 20 years. It can be hard for those living with dementia, and have control of their own financial affairs, to use tele and digital services, remember passwords and follow these conversations on the phone. Moreover, for those with hearing or sight loss a lack of access to a branch can be very difficult indeed.

Creating age-friendly banking support is vital to future-proofing Scotland. You can read more about age-friendly banking here – Age UK’s Age Friendly Banking Report

It’s important for banks to look for innovative solutions and not just take the easy route of closures. Crucially, when making decisions impacting the access to services, banks should ask their customers what they need and about the challenges they face.

We believe that banks should be bolder and think differently about how they offer face to face services to customers when they are considering closing branches. Shared banking hubs for smaller communities, suburbs and rural areas is gathering support from older people and politicians across Scotland. This also includes shared brand mobile branches that have reliable telecommunications, are designed appropriately for all customers including those with disabilities and all weathers and are open for a sufficient amount of time at each location to support people with limit mobility.

The Bank of Scotland could prove people wrong and think again before pressing ahead with these closures.