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The loss of our high-street banks will make us all poorer

I enjoyed this article in the Evening Standard by Melanie McDonagh and thought I would share it here, to see what reaction it gets.

The loss of our high-street banks will make us all poorer — but not financially

If you have tears, reader, prepare to shed them now. My bank in Berkeley Square is closing. From November, the Mayfair branch of the Allied Irish Bank is no more. The spectacle of me, trying to look creditworthy while withdrawing sums from my mother’s account, which quite often came to less than a fiver, will be no more. 

With internet banking you don’t have to look respectable. As for paying cheques (remember them?) into post office branches, which is the substitute we’re now offered, well, they don’t know you, and you don’t care.

With my bank, they (some) do know me and I did care. For someone whose financial ineptitude is near-pathological (I blame those bits in scripture about the camel and the eye of the needle), my relationship with the staff at my bank was an important element of my existence; they know my character, alas. Des, Tracey, Lauren and the rest — why, with some of them, we have aged together.

In the days when I could plausibly apply for an overdraft (nowadays you can’t get one for a couple of hundred quid), I would meet a genuine person who went over my financial record in a fashion that mingled reproof with compassion. When I was particularly in the doghouse once, the only way I could actually obtain funds was coming into my bank for an allowance. But the last time I went in, the place was eerily quiet, for reasons we all know — over and above Westminster council’s anti-business business rates. “People want to do it all online,” observed the nice girl behind the counter. So instead they’ll all be moving to an office without a reception.

It is hard to love banks; my attachment to mine falters whenever it charges £30 a day for going into DR territory. Ogden Nash got it right: “Most bankers dwell in marble halls, /Which they get to dwell in because they encourage deposits and discourage withdrawals,/And particularly because they all observe one rule which woe/betides the banker who fails to heed it,/Which is you must never lend any money to anybody unless/they don’t need it.” It is, however, possible to like local branches, and it’ll be interesting to see how banks manage without them — and I write as an obsessive user of internet banking. All but one of the branches of mine are closed already. Plainly, it’s part of a trend. Earlier this year the Consumers’ Association’s figures said that 1,046 branches of banks around the UK closed between December 2015 and January 2017, and 486 more will close this year.

The effect of one bank less in Mayfair is not seismic, but in small communities, losing a bank is awful. ATMs, indispensable as they are, aren’t a substitute, especially for the elderly. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell was onto something when he said banks should only be shut after local consultation and with the permission of the Financial Conduct Authority. As for the more important social change that the loss of physical banks represents, we’re still coming to terms with it.

A few weeks ago, Mark Zuckerberg created a stir when he declared that he wants a billion Facebook users to, you know, meet people offline, the way people do at church. Yet all the places where we do meet people and know people and talk to people routinely — like high-street banks — are disappearing, and the filaments of the social web are being cut one by one.

This brave new banking world: it’ll make us all the poorer.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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