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'Which?' raises the alarm: 'Digital-only' banks could exclude older customers

High street banks were in the headlines once again this week, this time with consumer group Which? reacting to the recent spate of branch closures. With high-street banks now closing at a rate of 54 branches per month, campaigners have voiced concerns that elderly and vulnerable customers won’t be able to access their cash or get assistance if they have questions about their finances.

 

For many customers – such as those who aren’t particularly tech savvy, or others who don’t have access to devices – the rapid pace at which banks are shutting up shop will spark real concern. They’re likely to be feeling unsure about how they’ll manage their finances, and could feel alienated by the move from traditional to digital touchpoints. I’ve seen this first-hand: in a Quadient survey of 2,000 consumers last year, we discovered that only 13% of people over the age of 55 prefer alternative channels (like online and social media) to traditional ways of communicating with organisations. In fact, more than one in five (22%) of people over 55 said these online touchpoints are worse than traditional ones.

 

Therefore, by closing physical branches at this rate, banks risk losing many of their older customers – who don’t think new online touchpoints are any easier to use than simply entering a traditional bank, or find these online services difficult to access. These customers will no doubt be concerned about how they’ll access cash if they need it, get help if they’re facing financial difficulty, or check in on the state of their accounts. These worries are particularly pressing at the moment, at a time when consumers of all ages are grappling with the cost-of-living crisis.

 

If banks are reducing in-person services, they’ll need to improve and personalise their digital offering. Individual customers need an individualised approach – and not every customer is comfortable with a ‘digital only’ experience. Banks can start by providing additional support for vulnerable or less tech-savvy customers, as well as making more interactive digital touchpoints, like webchat, more accessible. Above all, in the move to online, while the world strives to be ‘digital first’, banks must be careful to ensure this does not mean ‘digital only’.

 

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