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Age UK calls on banks to accelerate roll out of shared banking hubs

Source: Age UK

While bank branches continue to close, creating a growing number of ‘banking deserts’ across the country, new Ipsos research[ii] for Age UK has found that four in 10 older people (39 per cent) with a bank account in Britain – equivalent to 4.09 million people[iii] – are not managing their money online and could be at high risk of financial exclusion.

The polling found a high level of support for in-person banking, with three-quarters (75 per cent) of over-65s with a bank account - equivalent to 7.86 million people[iv] - wanting to undertake at least one banking task in person at a bank branch, building society or Post Office.[v]

The research also found that nearly a third of older people with a bank account (31 per cent) - equivalent to 3.25 million people[vi] - feel uncomfortable with online banking, despite its growing popularity in recent years.

Published today, Age UK’s new report ‘You can’t bank on it anymore’ shows that age, gender, income level and social grade are all key factors in determining how comfortable people feel about online banking.

The research participants who were most likely to feel uncomfortable using online banking were those aged 85+, female, on a low income, or more disadvantaged than their counterparts.[vii] And among those who were uncomfortable, not wanting to be defrauded or scammed (31 per cent), a lack of trust in online banking services (28 per cent) and a lack of IT skills (28 per cent) were cited as the main reasons.

On the back of these findings the Charity is calling for the protection of physical banking services for those who do not, or cannot bank online, and for the accelerated roll-out of Shared Banking Hubs in areas where bank branches are fast withering away. On hearing about Shared Banking Hubs, half the participants with a main bank account (49 per cent) - equivalent to 5.14 million people - said they would be comfortable using one as a main place to manage their money in their main account- a surprisingly high proportion, given that most of us are yet to experience one of these new settings.

“Hubs could work but they MUST all retain a High Street presence - a choice for people.” Caller to Age UK advice line.

With swathes of local branches closing, the report argues that physical spaces - whether a bank or building society branch, Banking Hub, or alternative suitable provision - must continue to exist so people can still carry out face-to-face tasks such as withdrawing and depositing cash, applying for a loan, arranging third party access to their account or starting bereavement proceedings. The disappearance of face-to-face banking risks cutting a significant minority of the older population out of an essential service, making it difficult if not impossible for them to manage their money and maintain their independence.

“All you get is a letter saying, ‘your nearest branch is Peterborough’, which is hopeless - you can’t park near the bank, the bus is infrequent, and the stop isn’t very near.” Woman with no online access, aged 78, interviewed by Age UK.

Banking Hub pilots are a relatively new solution to the problem but have so far worked extremely well and are proving popular with the local communities in which they are based. Safeguarding physical banking services in this way is a positive move forward but Age UK is keen for the roll-out to speed up to avoid more communities becoming ‘banking deserts’, with no face-to-face banking services or ATMs in place, leaving many older people living there feeling isolated and disenfranchised.

In addition to the speedy roll-out of more Banking Hubs, it is imperative that HM Treasury recognises the importance of protecting physical banking services. With the publication of its ‘cash access policy statement’ imminent, which will set out the Government’s vision of how people will access cash and banking in the future, Age UK urges the Treasury to include provision to ensure continued access to face-to-face services. This would secure a legacy for all the hard work that has gone into developing the Banking Hub model and would send a strong signal that the Government is on consumers’ side.

With around 2.4 million older people reliant on cash,[viii] an inability to access cash locally can prevent older people from going out or using the services they rely on, resulting in them feeling frustrated and left behind. Many older people view cash as the most reliable and straightforward way to pay for goods and services, as well as an effective means of managing their weekly budget when money is extremely tight.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “We need to face up to the fact that huge numbers of older people, the ‘oldest old’ especially, are not banking online. In addition, our new research also shows that even older people who do bank online often want the ability to talk to a bank employee in the flesh about some kind of transaction. These findings therefore demonstrate the huge and continuing demand for face to face banking services among our older population, and it’s crucial that the banks respond. Otherwise they are effectively disenfranchising millions who are willing and able to manage their finances - just not online.

“It seems however that the era of every bank having its own local branch is nearly over. The good news is that this need not spell the end of face to face banking, provided shared Banking Hubs can be established to take their place. At the moment our concern at Age UK is that there can be too long a delay between bank branches shutting down in an area, and a new Banking Hub becoming operational. To be fair to the banks it takes time to establish a Banking Hub and get it going, but maybe we need a new rule whereby if they want to close a branch, they have to provide communities with enough notice for a Hub to come on stream before all the traditional face to face banking services there disappears.

“These Hubs are also usually not considered until there is just one bank branch left in an area, but this is another rule that may need changing, in favour of ensuring a reasonable percentage of local people are able to access banking services before triggering the need for a shared Banking Hub. This is because if there’s one branch left but only a few local inhabitants bank there, then hordes of people of all ages, older people especially, will be left high and dry and unable to access the local banking services they need.

“The ability to manage your own financial affairs is something that many older people understandably hold dear, and it is extremely upsetting if you find your capacity to do this is being removed because your local bank branch is shutting down and you can’t easily get to another one. We know some older people in this position feel belittled and discounted, which is hugely unfair and undesirable, yet something that can be avoided if the banks get their act together and establish shared Banking Hubs in a timely and effective way.”

Age UK is also calling for the banks to do more to encourage and support older people to gain digital skills and benefit from online banking, if it’s right for them. Older people who are digitally excluded often need ongoing, personalised support, to gain digital skills. Once confident with some online activities, such as emailing and browsing, they may need further support to extend their skills including being able to safely bank online.

Age UK produces step-by-step guides and are available on Age UK’s website for those who are already online but want to boost their online confidence. For those not online, they can contact Age UK’s Advice Line on freephone 0800 169 65 65 or contact their local Age UK for further information and advice.

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