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Banking in branches is ‘old fashioned’ - What can be done for Norfolk’s closing banks?

PUBLISHED: 15:15 28 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:30 29 September 2018

Terry Moore was angered when the Barclays closed in Brundall in 2009. Picture: Archant

Terry Moore was angered when the Barclays closed in Brundall in 2009. Picture: Archant

Banks are closing across the region as customers are directed towards online banking and mobile apps. What does this mean for rural areas being left with no banks? MARC BETTS investigates.

Barclays Bank in Cromer closed in December 2017. Picture: David BaleBarclays Bank in Cromer closed in December 2017. Picture: David Bale

The decision to close banks come as they are looking to save money. Recently Watton become the latest victim as Lloyds Bank closed its branch, saying 70pc of customers used online and telephone banking.

Among the communities hit by the banks’ retreat are Halesworth, Reepham, Loddon and Bungay where there are no high street branches. RBS closed its branch in New Conduit Street, King’s Lynn and Lloyds Bank and Halifax have closed six branches across Norfolk and Suffolk.

A large concern in Norfolk is that with branches closing the elderly population will be left without banking services.

Eilen Page, 78, has volunteered at Pact Animal Sanctuary charity shop in Watton for 14 years. She has seen the town change over the years.

Ann Green who runs Ann Green Secondhand Books in Halesworth was concerned over the future of her business in Halesworth when the Barclays closed in the Summer. Picture: Nick ButcherAnn Green who runs Ann Green Secondhand Books in Halesworth was concerned over the future of her business in Halesworth when the Barclays closed in the Summer. Picture: Nick Butcher

She said: “It is terrible now, the bank that has been assigned to use now is in Dereham and if you haven’t got a car you can’t get there.

“My building society is with Lloyds and they told me I would have to go to King’s Lynn.”

Daniel Partridge, 37, from North Pickenham, worries that older people will struggle.

He said: “It’s a shame, another bank closing down which is a problem for elderly people as there are not a lot of services they can use left.

Lloyds Bank in Watton will be closing in October. Picture: Marc BettsLloyds Bank in Watton will be closing in October. Picture: Marc Betts

“Big banks are closing in the area and across Norfolk full stop. The main establishments are closing because a lot of it is online now and it isn’t worth these banks staying open.”

Another reason banks are closing could be down to the idea of a cashless society. A survey of 2,000 people by Payment Sense found that 49pc of people pay using chip and pin and another 27pc pay using contactless.

As well as this only 28pc of those surveyed withdrew money each week.

In lieu of branches, many banks now offer a mobile branch, with the vans visiting rural areas twice a week for hours at a time. Many people have to wait for these to visit to before being able to bank.

Customers queuing to use the mobile branch. Picture: Marc BettsCustomers queuing to use the mobile branch. Picture: Marc Betts

So with banks closing is it time that rural areas adapted? Executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) Stefan Gurney thinks that people in rural areas need to be educated in online technology instead of using the “old-fashioned way” as banks try to reduce overheads.

He said: “As banking is now done more online it therefore requires less bricks and mortar to have that engagement with their customers.

“The usage has seen a change in the high street and logically organisations are going to go to where the largest concentration of clients are, which is the urban areas. This is why it is having an impact on the smaller towns that don’t have the numbers to justify the expense.

“The challenge is for banks to engage with their customers. Part of it is education, with a lot of them now looking at educating the older demographic in how to interact with them in the new tech environment with courses and staff training.

“But there will be those who want to interact in the old-fashioned way and come into a bank and engage with people.”

The recent spate of bank closures have left many looking for answers. Labour has announced plans to overhaul banking rules to stop branches closing in rural areas.

Speaking at the party’s annual conference, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said she would grant new powers that would force large banks to keep branches open.

She said: “We would essentially beef up the powers of the Financial Conduct Authority so if a bank wanted to close a branch it would have to satisfy certain criteria.

“People shouldn’t have to drive miles and miles just to get to a bank. If you are a shop owner trying to pay your takings in every week it is dangerous, or an elderly couple trying to take money out at the bank - it is not feasible.”

Where does this leave customers? Banks are continuing to close and there are no signs of new branches opening, leaving online banking as the only option. So it looks like rural areas will have to learn to live without a bank.

Mobile banking

Branches have been replaced in some rural areas by mobile banks.

In Diss, Natwest closed on May 30 of this year. Since then there has been a mobile bank visiting the town for two hours twice a week.

But for the users it is not a welcome change.

Peter Stubbs has lived in Diss for 40 years. The 73-year-old said: “If you’re at work and you can’t get out it’s useless.

“Tuesdays I work in Norwich so I can only do it on Thursday. It’s a flawed system, I’m thinking of changing bank.

“I have asked for simple things and they can’t do it. They don’t provide a service.”

Jan Shannon has started using online banking after losing faith in the mobile bank.

The 74-year-old said: “I tried to transfer some money and they did it the wrong way.

“I’ve started using a bit of online banking with the help of my daughter. I have to use it, I don’t like the idea but banks are going that way.”

How are areas with no banks coping?

Reepham lost its last branch, HSBC, in October 2015.

Martin James is the owner of Panther Brewery, based in Reepham, and former chair of Reepham Chamber of Commerce. He made the decision to change banks when it closed.

He said: “Footfall dropped in the village, businesses noticed that but banking-wise it wasn’t too bad as I changed to Santander who have a good relationship with the Post Office. But if that closes I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Loddon was left without a bank last year.

Parish councillor for Loddon David Bingham says banking has become a “chore”.

He said: “On a personal note it is inconvenient as we have to go to Beccles now to bank at Barclays. My wife is treasurer of Loddon Players and it’s more of a chore.

“We are fortunate that getting cash out has been helped by Barclays keeping the cashpoint open.

“But I don’t recall anyone raising the issue since it actually closed.”

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