When Cambuslang lost the last of its bank branches in Scotland four years ago, it hit the town center hard.
“Three [banks] departure at one time destroyed the main street, ”said Angeline Coyle, owner of The Tea Bay cafe in the town of 28,000 people, south-east of Glasgow. All of them closed within 18 months, a trend that has been reflected in the UK over the past decade.
The closures hit pedestrians in Cambuslang badly. “Many people used to come and collect their pensions there, but when there was no reason to come down, they did not go to visit,” Coyle complained.
It also made it much harder for her to do business. “I had to travel to the bank in the next town to deposit cash, which meant taking two hours out of my day or asking my mother to carry a lot of money,” she explained. “We are only rebuilding now.”
Coyle largely attributed her optimism to the success of a banking business pilot scheme in town – a rare collaborative effort between the state-run Post Office and Britain’s largest retail banks. Cambuslang was one of two places in the UK chosen to house a shared branch, branded “BankHub”.
The two pilots were the most popular among a number of initiatives launched in early 2021 to maintain access to cash, according to a report by Natalie Ceeney, who oversaw all projects as chair of Community Access to Cash Pilots initiative.
The increasing use of digital banking services and a sharp decline in cash payments during the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated a trend of branch closures and ATMs over the past decade. This is an issue that particularly affects the elderly, vulnerable people and small business owners.
Since 2012, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen from 11,355 to just 6,965 in October 2021, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. A recent analysis by Which? identified that nearly 1,000 branches would close in 2021 and 2022.
In July, British Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched a consultation on the issue, promising to address concerns that millions of elderly and vulnerable people may be left without access to cash. He said banks would be obliged to ensure that cash facilities were available and promised to set undefined “geographical access requirements”.
The consultation closed in September and in a statement the government said the answers would “help inform the final legislation”.
The success of Cambuslang’s banking center pilot and his English counterpart in Rochford, a small market town in Essex, brought together the Access to Cash Action Group (Acag), a body that brings together the UK’s major retail banks and other interest groups, including Age UK. , last month to expand the scheme. It plans to open bank hubs next year in five more places.
“We know that the demand for cash is declining, but we also know that it still plays an important role in the lives of at least 5 million people in the UK – including some of the most vulnerable in society,” said Ceeney, chairwoman of Acag. . .
John Bachtler, chairman of the Cambuslang Community Council, said: “We have many people with cash management issues who are advised by the Citizens Advice Bureau to use cash to keep up with their spending.”
The BankHub is housed in a former butchery and features a counter with a postmaster who can provide cash and take deposits. It also has a separate office for a rotating group of community bankers from different lenders to provide more customized support.
Before the hub arrived, there was a Post Office counter in a convenience store, but due to its location, locals like Coyle did not like to use it for banking services where everyone could see and hear.
“We needed a unit,” Bachtler said. “People did not want to talk finances or business where other people buy beans and alcohol.”
The banking center had an average of 76 transactions per day during its pilot period, said Mark Lauterburg, a member of the board. “Personal capacity is essential,” he said. “Many people do not have access to the technology.”
In total, more than £ 3.1m went through the spindle during the trial period.
For Coyle, the pivot was essential. “It was amazing, I go every few days, I don’t have to keep cash in the store or at home,” she said.
A half-hour drive from Cambuslang to the northeast of Glasgow, the small town of Denny lost its last banking branch in 2018, leaving locals to rely on the Post Office and ATMs, several of which have been vandalized in recent weeks.
Louise Hay, part of Denny Community Support Group, said there are bank branches in nearby towns, but they feel “far away” due to the poor public transport links.
“I work with a large disadvantaged group, so inclusion was important for everyone,” she said.
More than a fifth of Denny’s 8,000 residents are over 60, while some parts of the town’s ranking are among the most needy places in Scotland.
In the local Co-op, Glasgow-based fintech OneBanks has installed a manned kiosk that customers of any bank can use for free.
It offers digital banking as well as cash withdrawals and deposits along with a currency exchange machine.
“They were absolutely brilliant,” says Michael Thompson, who runs the Fruit Basket, a local greengrocer, and does not accept card payments.
“Without that cash, it’s a sale I would not have gotten.”
The CACP report said users were “very positive” about the experience of OneBanks’ kiosk, but found that those with less digital skills or low self-esteem could struggle.
In the local branch of the Post Office, which is being renovated, Mark Love, the postmaster, said he hopes the town will eventually get a bank hub like Cambuslang.
“There is a great demand for cash, people choose to use cash or are paid in cash. “I do not think it will ever go away,” he said.