Who cares whether old people can bank in their village?
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Who cares whether old people can bank in their village?

Who cares whether old people can bank in their village?

Posted on 18th January 2018

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We are constantly told that the world is changing faster than ever and that this has profound consequences for humankind. At the heart of this change lies technological change.  This is not unique to our modern world: the wheel, the printing press and the various forms of internal combustion/jet engines have had arguably more impact than anything since, with the notable exception of the internet.

Moore’s Law, which, in simple terms, states that computing power doubles every two years, has taken us to a world where you can now control your home from your phone, to coin a phrase. Depending on your point of view, that may be wonderful, but your phone can’t produce actual ten pound notes for you.  Of course, you can use your phone’s “wallet” to pay for things and do all your banking and generally make your life easier, but it can’t produce a nice crisp fiver should you happen to want one.

The banks, who, let’s face it, are not exactly the most popular businesses in the western world, have a problem.  To remain viable and robust enough to withstand the next major crash, banks got rid of bad debt, stored up their reserves and sought ways to become more efficient and cost-effective. The crass management that had caused this bad debt to accumulate is unforgivable. Just to put this in context, I read recently that the money salted away in the RBS ‘Bad Bank’ – where all the toxic loans from the Fred the Shred era were kept – was “terminated” by the government last year.  The losses contained in that ‘Bad Bank’ were £50bn, or enough to pay the amount the EU was looking for from the UK to help ease Brexit. 

Unsurprisingly, banks, and not just RBS, have all been trying to cut costs. Today’s Times newspaper suggests that they might cull even more branches.  Technology – as exemplified by fintech – is one way of doing this.  The more people can bank online the better and cheaper it is.  However, this does not come without consequences. 

The much-publicised closure of a huge swathe of local banks, leading, in some instances, to reasonably large towns not having any bank at all, is one of these consequences.  If you are in Edinburgh or London and have banks on every corner, this may not even register, but the reality is that we need to ensure that our drive to use technology as a rising tide to lift all boats to the betterment of mankind doesn’t leave some adrift if not actually drowning.  Where I live, in Bo’ness, there is now no RBS branch and the one in Linlithgow has closed (or is just about to) as well, meaning that anyone wishing to bank with them has to go to Grangemouth.

Now I know it’s easy to say that banks closing don’t matter because there is always a Post Office in a village, but the reality is that this is not true either.  In the Irvine valley in Ayrshire, there are three villages, Darvel, Newmilns and Galston.  There is only one bank, in Galston, and Newmilns no longer has a Post Office. If you are old and/or unable/not comfortable with the internet or phone banking then you are stuck. All this means that banks lose touch with the small, local firms that are the backbone of the UK economy.  That’s not good, especially given the proliferation of small, self-owned businesses across the country.

In Perth, hardly a small village, there will soon be, I understand, no RBS branch in the city centre.  Also in Perth, a friend’s father, who is 89 (and is not a complete technophobe in that he’s quite happy to use email) has just been told by his local newsagent he cannot pay for his newspaper subscription by cheque.  The fact that it is more difficult for the newsagent to find a bank to cash the cheque means an old man’s life is disrupted.  Is this what disruption is meant to mean?

Banks don’t really have a choice. They must disrupt or be disrupted.  We know the world is changing, but as it does we must ensure that we don’t leave a lot of people behind.  By all means, invent, innovate and disrupt, but have a social conscience and awareness of how your “progress” may not be a boon to all.

Stuart Alexander, Be-IT

Posted in Opinion

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