Community Banks

Have I told you, I really love listening to local radio stations? Well I do. Also, have I mentioned that I now live in a place which is strange in that there seem to be no bank branches as far as any one can work out. Describing this place as the middle of nowhere does a dis-service to the middle of nowhere.

Anyway, the odd topic which piqued my interest today was a phone-in on the local radio. The coverage of this radio station was pretty much one city and numerous small communities spread over a relatively moderate geographical area. In a plane you can fly from one corner to the opposite side in about 20 mins. I wouldn’t want to walk it though.

Now, the subject of the show today was about Banks replacing their free cashpoints (ATMs for colonials) with machines that charge around GB£1.75 each time you want to take your money out. Understandably, most callers were outraged. For background, each rural community probably has (at best) access to one cashpoint. If this is broken (as they often are) it involves a drive of about 20 minutes to the next place where you hope there will be a working cashpoint. Despite this dearth of places to withdraw your cash, there are no bank branches (they were all closed a few years ago, because the cashpoint serviced everyone’s needs…) but lots of shops which will take your money.

Of course you can use your switch card for transactions, but not always. Some examples are car parking (cash only), the ice cream van – in fact nearly all small business transactions – (cash only), and, comically this happened to me today, when there is a problem and the shop you are in is unable to connect to the bank to verify your card details. When this happens you need cash. We are not yet (and probably unlikely to become in my lifetime) a cashless society.

So, it is pretty obvious that people need cash. The people who need the cash the most seem to be the elderly and the young – the least mobile elements of society.

What amazed me about the phone in, was people were actually ringing in to say that they thought the fee-charging cashpoints were a good thing and one guy even said it was all about “customer choice – no one forces you to use that cash point.” What nonsense. Annoying nonsense because it has that insidious “ring of truth” people use to hide their woo, but still nonsense. If you don’t have a car you are forced to use the cashpoint in your local area – without cash you can not get on the bus to the next village to see if their cashpoint works…. As I said, the ones who need it the most are often the ones who are least able to jump in their car and drive 10 miles to the next cash point. What are they supposed to do? How is being forced to pay to access their own money “choice?” (well they can choose to not store their money in banks, but how will they get (for example) their pension check paid to them?)

Frustratingly, I have often seen the elderly, the young and the poor, using fee-charging cashpoints to withdraw small sums of money. If you are poor and can only take GB£ 20 out of your account, the 1.75 fee is a whopping 8% fee. Breathtaking rate to be “fined” for the crime of poverty and poor mobility. Of course, if you withdraw GB£500 each time then the fee is small (yet it is still there) in comparison, but I suspect if you can withdraw five hundred quid, you can get to a free cashpoint…

When the banks decided to crucify rural communities by closing most branches, there was outrage. It was mollified to some extent by the widespread cashpoint network which the banks rolled out, and wonderfully this gave people free access to their money. Now, it seems the situation has once more changed for the worse. Given the current environmental concerns, encouraging people to drive 10 miles each time they want money is madness. The fact it really pinches the poor and vulnerable, yet most people hardly bat an eyelid is a sad comment on society.

[tags]Banks, Cash, Society, Morals, Community, Culture, Poverty,Poor, Vulnerable, Bank Branches, Cashpoints, ATM[/tags]