How Covid has been the nail in the coffin for many local bank branches

Industry veteran: Tony Foot started his bank career in 1964

When Tony Foot started his bank career in 1964, there were a handful of branches in every town and the manager knew all their customers by name. Here, the 74-year-old retired bank manager explains why we all lose out when banks close their doors…

During my career, I always regarded myself as an old-fashioned bank manager, involved in the community as a parish councillor, trustee of local charities, treasurer of clubs, and a source of honest, unbiased financial advice.

I joined a High Street bank in 1964 and was given two books – The Branch Banker by Dandy and Principles Of Banking by Len Mather. Both emphasised how important personal relationships were.

You were expected to be discreet and to join clubs and societies such as the Round Table, Rotary, Lions and similar, so you would be part of – and pillar of – the community.

You had to live on the patch where your branch was located, so as to be a local and approachable.

All this is now gone. When a branch closes you lose the willing volunteers, treasurers and committee members.

There is no longer a source of good employment nor careers for bright youngsters, particularly in small, rural towns.

Young and older folk lose being able to talk to someone they know and trust and who knows them. 

Small businesses are forced to travel some distance to pay in their takings and obtain cash, if indeed the nearest branch will still deal with cash.

It becomes almost impossible for a personal customer, small club or business to know who to talk to or how to contact ‘their manager’ – even if one exists.

All they have is a central number to a call centre, where they are bombarded with recorded messages about it being easier and better to bank online.

They are forced to wait and wait for the Muzak to end and to hear a human voice, presumably to reinforce their bank’s wish that they go digital.

Firms claim there are alternative methods to bank other than a branch. This includes using the telephone or one of the remaining Post Offices, computer or even mobile phone app.

All this does is to remove any hope of dealing with a person you know and who knows you. You no longer belong – you are an account number and a credit score. 

The older you get and the more technical society is, the more difficult and frightening it becomes.

Using a computer, if you have one, with stiff fingers, terrified of pushing the wrong button, or a cash machine with small, hard-to-see buttons and screen present real challenges. 

There is also the worry about what happens when you can no longer cope and you have no one to turn to for help and are vulnerable to scammers.

Despite their glossy advertising, banks no longer care. They are dealing with a captive market where a bank account is almost mandatory.

The call is to centralise everything, shut branches, cut costs, cut staff and increase the bottom line.

Customers will just have to do the work and bank online whether they like it or not, even if reliable broadband is not available or the cost almost unaffordable. The banks’ profits come first.

This is not what I knew as banking. It is cold and impersonal money-making — and I hate it.

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