A “NEW model for high street banking” to boost access to cash is set to be rolled out to other communities hit by bank closures around Scotland.
The new hope for high-street banking, funded by the banking industry has come in the form of brand new five-banks-in-one hub hosted by the Post Office which are being tested in pilot locations in Cambuslang and Rochford in Essex.
The schemes fronted by Community Access to Cash Pilots Board chairman Natalie Ceeney offered access to basic banking and cash withdrawals and deposits through a counter operated by the Post Office, which will support the customers of all major retail banks.
Sources for the pilots, which are supported by a grant from the major banks, say the pioneering project has proved such a hit that it is felt the way forward is to provide them in areas hit hardest by bank closures.
It has also emerged that plans for cashback without purchase are to abcome vailable in thousands of shops within months while the BankHub pilot in Cambuslang is to continue until April, 2023.
The Access to Cash Action Group which is developing industry proposals to protect access to money in the long term say that in the short time since they were launched in April 2021, the two BankHUBs have helped over 12,000 customers with access to cash and basic banking needs.
A survey of Cambuslang BankHUB customer, just completed, shows over 95% local satisfaction with the BankHUB service.
“It is making a huge difference to the lives of elderly people in particular, and those with financial management challenges,” said a pilots spokesman. “The survey evidence also shows that BankHUB users are spending more time and money shopping in Cambuslang Main Street, contributing to the commercial revival of the town centre.
“The Cambuslang and Rochford BankHUBs had been due to close in October. But the Access to Cash Action Group has decided to extend bot pilots until at least April 2023 – giving banks and local communities more time to test new innovations, adapt services to meet people’s needs, and build insight to inform effective solutions for the long term.”
Analysis produced exclusively for the Herald by the consumer organisation Which? in October revealed that nearly half (47%) of the over 1000 bank branches which were open in Scotland five years ago will have shut by this year.
In Cambuslang, the pilot BankHUB – a new form of joint bank branch supported by the Post Office sees each of the five banks take it in turns to provide services on weekdays.
RBS was to be available on Monday, Santander on Tuesday, Virgin Money on Wednesday, Bank of Scotland on Thursday and TSB on Friday.
John Bachtler, chairman of Cambuslang Community Council which co-ordinates the Cambuslang BankHUB said: “Residents and businesses will be delighted that the BankHUB model is being extended for at least another 18 months. Within a few months, the Cambuslang BankHUB has already proved that the model is very successful, providing a much-needed service to hundreds of local customers every week. We are proud to that Cambuslang has been piloting a model that has drawn interest from politicians across Scotland and has implications for other unbanked communities across the country.
“Behind the scenes, there are discussions about rolling it out to other unbanked communities in Scotland.”
The Cambuslang hub, supported by the community council, is based in an empty retail outlet and comes after locals found that the existing post office was difficult to do transactional banking services because people were queuing and using wider services such as posting a parcel.
Cambuslang, the Lanarkshire town of 25,000 people, found itself at the forefront of the fight for better access to cash three years ago.
It went from having three bank branches to having none in the space of 18 months from 2016. At the same time the number of cash machines dropped from four to two.
Meanwhile, following a successful pilot, the UK’ largest cash machine network, LINK and bill payment system firm PayPoint will now embark on the rapid rollout of ‘cashback without purchase’ to thousands of smaller shops over the coming months.
During the pilot, customers made thousands of withdrawals and balance enquiries – withdrawing an average of £28 each time.
Many withdrawals were for ‘non-round’ amounts that would not be available from an ATM – with one high street banking reporting that half of their customers who used cashback were considered vulnerable.
Legislation passed in April opened the door to thousands of retailers offering cashback to customers without them needing to make a purchase. Under the scheme, customers insert their bank card into an eligible terminal on the counter and can withdraw exactly the amount they need – with the cash provided by the retailer directly from the till. We hope this will be the first of many schemes and operators offering cashback.
Natalie Ceeney, independent chairman of the Access to Cash Action Group: “We can already see the positive role the hubs are playing in revitalising these local communities – providing essential banking services for individuals as well as a boost for local businesses. Extending the pilots gives us more opportunity to really understand what works for people, and what role services like these could play in the future. These are early steps, and over the coming months the Group will explore a wide range of options to protect access to cash.”
Gareth Shaw, head of money with consumer organisation Which? said: “Wave after wave of bank branch closures in recent years have left many people who depend on them for essential banking services at risk of being cut adrift, so it is encouraging that the shared branch trial is proving a successful solution.
“The initiative could provide a crucial piece of the puzzle to ensure local access to cash and banking services is maintained, but it is likely that a wider range of innovations will be required to address the different challenges faced by local areas.
“Which? supports new laws to make the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) the lead regulator for monitoring and enforcing requirements on access to cash, with strong powers to hold the industry accountable for providing access locally. It is vital that the government and regulators move swiftly in order to ensure appropriate banking services for customers remain available.”
Recent research from the FCA found that, during the pandemic, 15% of UK adults have struggled to cope without access to bank branches and ATMs, while 16% suffered as more businesses stopped or encouraged customers to use contactless or digital payments.
FCA research suggests that five million people remain dependent on cash.
Data provided by LINK, the UK’s main cash machine network, revealed that the number of ATMs dropped from 5,866 in November, 2019, to 5,239 in September last year. There were 4022 free-to-use cash machines across Scotland while 1,217 charge – meaning that in one in four of the nation’s ATMs you have to pay to get your money out.
In January, research showed that over 2m Scots have been refused payment with notes and coins during the pandemic, threatening the viability of the cash network.