HSBC to close more than 50 branches across the UK – full list
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Which? has warned that the closures have cut networks significantly, with almost half of the UK’s branches having closed since 2015. Janice Bell, from Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, shared her concerns on how the closures will affect vulnerable people across the board, from her teenage daughter to her 87-year-old father.
Many customers across the UK have been bereft of their face-to-face banking needs as closures now mean they need to go far out of their way to get human customer service.
Which? is calling on the Government to deliver on its promise made in 2020 to protect cash in what is quickly becoming a completely digital sector.
While the move to paperless money and online services saw great positive impact during the pandemic, there are many groups of people being left behind.
Ms Bell said two banks in her local high street have recently closed with a third also closing.
She is concerned for people in her parent’s generation, noting that it was difficult to explain forms of technology, such as WhatsApp video calling, to her dad, 87, during the pandemic.
She said: “The expectation that he can manage without a local bank and access to cash is totally unrealistic.”
Her father lives two hours away from her, and thankfully there is family closer to him who can help in his hour of need, but noted that others may not be as lucky.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Ms Bell said: “It’s a challenge for anybody of his generation to be able to cope with dealing with online banking and not being able to access cash is not what they’re used to and not something he’s going to get used to at his age.”
Ms Bell’s father used to work as a detective, using a typewriter to file his reports rather than a computer, so the expectation that he could manage his finances digitally, or even complete his weekly grocery shop online, without assistance is quite a stretch.
She noted: “He’s still been able to go into the local branch but he’s of the generation where he will give my children cash or send them a cheque. He’s not going to grow out of that in his lifetime. He struggled on WhatsApp video calls in lockdown, it’s not necessarily easy when you’re older.
“Not everybody’s got family or friends who will help. There are old people who are perhaps more isolated who wouldn’t have a clue where to start if they haven’t got people to support them.”
Ms Bell works as the head of specialist housing and support, dealing with people who are homeless or potentially at risk of being homeless, seeing first hand the impact of the closures on a variety of people.
She explained: “Doing things online isn’t necessarily comfortable for a lot of people. Also if you can’t use cash you’re also more likely to overspend and get into debt. This isn’t good customer service when you’re not thinking of the needs of people and the impact on people.
“The disadvantages need to be assessed, equality impact assessments need to be made on access to make sure they give everyone an equal opportunity. At the end of the day, people might not even have access to wifi.”
She highlighted that the vulnerable people she works with would often prefer to go into a branch instead of doing everything digitally, with some not being able to afford the costs of waiting on hold or online for a representative to respond.
She also added that having more branches with available human support “possibly” would have prevented some people she helps from ending up in their current situation.
Ms Bell added: “There’s always going to be barriers. People who have issues with visionary impairment or hearing impairment and all sorts of other things that may prevent them wanting to do things online.”
Additionally, it is not just the elderly and financially vulnerable that may find difficulties with the digital systems, but also the generations born with technology.
Ms Bell’s 17-year-old daughter had recently fallen victim to two scams due to what Ms Bell believes is inadequate education on technology and the potential dangers of online scammers.
Her daughter had ordered a pair of shoes online for what seemed like a great price but these never arrived.
This already stressful situation was paired with a trip to their nearest bank branch in Cardiff, as their local branches had closed.
Ms Bell added: “It isn’t far but I had to make a considerate effort to go out for half a day in order to take her into a branch and for her to see somebody in a face-to-face situation to sort out the muddle that she got herself into.
“It was very stressful. She lost a little bit of money by being taken advantage of because of her age and lack of knowledge about scammers. For my dad, for my daughter there are different challenges but there is still that need to see people face to face.”
She added: “Because everything is digital, people take advantage of that and prey on people who might be vulnerable. It can perhaps happen even more readily online.
“My dad would probably be one of those people he wouldn’t know if it was legit or not necessarily. It’s not that he’s stupid, he was a detective, but it’s a different world.”
Ms Bell suggested that rather than shutting down local branches, banks could band together in one location.
She concluded: “If you can’t keep your own branch open, perhaps work in partnership with others to reduce your costs and keep the branches open so that people can go in. Even if it’s a pop-up day. There’s ways they could think around doing things.
“Lots of businesses used to use our local branches, there were huge queues outside in the morning with people waiting to go in. It’s a shame.”
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