BANKS ARE ABANDONING OUR TOWNS
The Clydesdale Bank recently announced the closure of 79 branches across the UK, 40 in Scotland with the loss of 200 jobs, including Saltcoats and Beith in my North Ayrshire & Arran constituency. Clydesdale bank customers at these locations are having their accounts moved to Irvine and Paisley respectively, at great inconvenience. Kilwinning lost its branch in 2015.
The regulation of banking remains reserved to Westminster. On behalf of my constituents and as SNP Consumer Affairs spokesperson, l met Clydesdale Bank management in the House of Commons on 01 February to urge that the bank revisit this latest round of closures. Sadly the decision will not be rescinded. I asked the bank to at least put mobile banking in place to ensure their presence in each town and hope that this will be seriously considered.
The closure of local bank branches on high streets across Scotland is becoming increasingly commonplace in these times of ‘increased digital offerings’ from banks and building societies. Indeed, banks are keen to impress on customers that this is the way forward. Often this advice comes with little consideration for those with reservations about inputting sensitive information online or just don’t feel comfortable doing so. Digital banking is not for everyone. Many people haven’t made the transition to digital technology or aren’t yet served by the rollout of superfast broadband.
Although almost a decade has passed since the worst banking collapse in modern history, banks close branches to reduce costs, despite the obvious impact on customers and staff. Clearly, whilst some existing services can be accessed via post offices or by switching to a credit union or another bank, many remaining customers will have to rely on public transport to do their banking. Some will be elderly, infirm, and unable to make the journey.
It is deeply concerning that customers are being left isolated through no fault of their own. Banks talk of having to respond to increased demand for online banking. However, many of those who do not currently utilise online banking are being forced to.
Announcements regarding additional branch closures follow news that the Financial Conduct Authority will investigate overdraft fees as part of its wider review of high interest loans. This is partly because some banks charge more in daily overdraft fees than an equivalent payday loan. It remains to be seen whether the regulator will take meaningful action, perhaps by introducing a cap on overdraft charges.
Recently, news of RBS’ continued stockpiling of billions – to pay an imminent bill to the US Department of Justice – again reminded us of the calamitous and wholly amoral actions of some of our formerly most trusted banks prior to the 2008 financial crash. I’m sure many of us would prefer financial institutions to focus on their customers.
From hearing first-hand the outcry regarding decisions to close local branches, it is apparent that banks are not listening to those most affected by these decisions. What future does any business have if it does not listen to its customers?