Conserve our cash by letting banks share deserted high street branches,

Natalie Ceeney, the nation’s leading authority on the damage done to communities when banks and atm close, states the Federal government and regulator have simply ‘months left’ to present guidelines that will safeguard across the country access to money.

Failure to act promptly, she says, will leave numerous communities up and down the country facing an unsure future.

Deprived of services that permit citizens and local companies to easily gain access to and deposit cash, she fears numerous will become wastelands as buyers go in other places and merchants close.

Enthusiastic: Banking expert Natalie Ceeney says ‘banking hubs’ are the response to the increasing number of closures of high street branches

Ceeney thinks ‘immediate action’ is needed since of an impending wave of branch and ATM closures in the coming months as banks shrink their high street presence.

These closures are mainly in reaction to a consumer shift towards online and mobile banking, a trend highlighted by the lockdowns of the past year.

Last month, Santander said it would shut 111 branches by the end of August while TSB is still working its way through a programme announced in September that will see more than 160 branches axed from its network. HSBC is likewise axing 82 branches.

Some professionals believe 40 per cent of bank branches nationwide could nearby completion of the year.

Ceeney argues that a few of these doomed branches– and others being shut by competing banks– ought to not be left empty. Rather, they should be promptly converted into ‘banking hubs’ that use fundamental banking services to clients of all the nation’s primary banks.

Such a shared branch concept– first put forward in the late 1990s by the now disbanded Campaign for Neighborhood Banking Services– is one that The Mail on Sunday has actually championed for several years.

The banking centers would enable clients– both individual and service– of all banks to deposit and withdraw money, along with deposit cheques. They would offer clients an opportunity (on particular days) to meet an agent of their own bank to talk about a financial concern– along with allow people to open accounts.

The Post Office-branded center in Rochford opened 5 days ago in a previous carpet shop

‘ Such hubs would breathe life back into having a hard time neighborhoods,’ Ceeney enthusiastically told The Mail on Sunday late last week. They would be run by the Post Office.

However without regulatory support for such an idea, she believes the banks would fidget about getting behind it. Their main concern is falling foul of competition laws by being seen to be working in collusion.

To compound matters, the Government has yet to introduce legislation to protect access to money, regardless of a pre-pandemic promise to do so. Any legislation would include pressure on all celebrations– regulators and banks– to come up with access to money options.

Ceeney, author of a ground-breaking report 2 years back on access to money, spoke with The Mail on Sunday as the thumbs-up was given for the launch of eight cash pilot schemes across the nation.

These community access to cash pilots are an effort backed by leading banks, customer groups and small companies– and are overseen by a board chaired by Ceeney.

The idea is to evaluate brand-new methods of making money available in neighborhoods. These consist of allowing individuals to get cashback from local shops through new ways such as pre-ordering it on an app; improving post office facilities; and introducing free-to-use cash machines in communities that previously did not have access to one.

Last month, Santander stated it would shut 111 branches by the end of August

Two of the pilot plans– in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, and Rochford, Essex– are trialling the banking hub model that Ceeney passionately thinks could transform numerous neighborhood high streets. A 3rd was to be checked in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, but ideal properties could not be discovered, so the pilot was shelved.

Independently, as we report here, Lord Holmes of Richmond is hoping tomorrow to put pressure on the Federal government to introduce legislation that would allow sellers to offer cashback without clients having to purchase something initially.

All 8 pilots went live in the previous few days, however are scheduled to run for just six months since of the restricted financing provided to them. This small window is among the primary reasons why Ceeney is eager to get the regulators and Federal government onside so that if the banking hubs prove popular, they could be rapidly presented nationwide.

The Post Office-branded center in Rochford opened 5 days back in a former carpet shop. As a director of Rochford Financial Centre, George Ioannou has actually been instrumental in getting the task off the ground. Rochford no longer has any banks– Barclays was the last to leave in 2017– and among its two cash machines is fee-charging.

‘ It’s taken 12 long months to get the hub operational,’ states George, a previous director at an American ratings agency, who has resided in the town for the previous thirty years. ‘And of course lockdowns haven’t assisted.’

The center provides a free-to-use ATM and an automated deposit maker that allows personal consumers and businesses to bank cash and cheques. There is also a post workplace counter where people can do personal banking– it doesn’t offer stamps.

Then, on each day of the working week, 2 representatives from one of five banks (Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest and Santander) pertained to help consumers who wish to go over particular financial concerns– or open an account.

‘ We had 70 individuals in on Tuesday, then 50 the following day,’ states George. We’re happy with the positive reaction the hub has actually gotten from regional organizations and the wider community.’

Mindful that the shared branch has probably only 3 months to prove to the banks and the Post Office that it is a viable operation, George says he will ‘move heaven and earth’ to guarantee it is a success. He includes: ‘Either the neighborhood utilizes it or we will lose it.’

On Ceeney’s wish to have a national rollout of such hubs, he is four square behind it, especially in towns like Rochford, where all the banks have gone. The hubs, he believes, might assist promote regional companies and regional neighborhoods damaged hard by lockdowns.

Derek French, a former retail banking executive, established the Campaign for Neighborhood Banking Providers in 1998. He championed shared bank branches, but after similar trials to those being carried out in Rochford and Cambuslang, the banks declined to back the idea.

Offered this bitter experience, he is naturally sceptical about Ceeney’s grand vision of a national network of banking hubs.

On Friday, he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The money pilots are ill timed, appear like a random selection of concepts, and the reality that just 2 hubs are being tested suggests the banks are lukewarm about the idea. I fear the pilots have actually been set up to fail.’

Martin Kearsley, director of banking at the Post Workplace, likewise appeared to minimize the banking centers. He stated: ‘While they offer much guarantee, they are not an option to this [access to cash] problem in seclusion. Post Workplace branches supply crucial cash deposit and withdrawal services for millions of individual and business consumers each week.

‘There must be a continued obligation on retail banks to provide access to money withdrawal services free at the point of service for both consumers and organizations across the nation.’

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