Hornsea, yet another bank-free community
In a weekly coffee morning, held in the Parish Hall, opposite Lloyds bank in Hornsea, pensioners are discussing the imminent closures of the town’s two remaining banks.
This small town on the East Yorkshire coast has been caught up in the accelerating pace of Britain’s bank closures. Hornsea residents have been left with a feeling of abandonment following the recent revelations that both NatWest and Lloyds will close their branches in June.
The decision is linked to a steep decline in usage of traditional branches in favour of online banking.. Banking giant RBS announced, earlier in the year, that it is to close 259 high street branches across the UK, including several in Yorkshire. A total of 197 RBS-managed NatWest outlets and 62 RBS branches will shut in 2018 due to changing customer habits.
Hornsea is on the front line, facing a double whammy. Both its NatWest and Lloyds branches will close within a week of each other this June. Alongside RBS’s planned 259 closures, Lloyds is axing 49 branches , which includes the Horsnea bank.
Many of the town’s 8,500 residents are both angry and dismayed. Pensioners at the coffee morning are furious about the closures.
Jean Robinson, a 75-year-old retired fruit wholesaler, has been running the weekly event for 10 years, including organising a minibus to pick up people who struggle to walk, or who live in the nearby villages. She is incensed at the branch closures.
“It’s disgusting, we could have done with one bank being left”. she says.
Don Paget, a 95-year-old Lloyds customer, also condemns the bank’s actions. He is semi-blind and says his condition means he can’t use the internet.
“It’s terrible,” he says. “ All the old people here use the banks a lot. It’s dreadful that they’re not caring about the older people, just money.!”
Ron Hughes, a fellow Lloyds customer in his seventies, is registered blind and would also find internet banking “just impossible”.
“What’s so dreadful is both banks are closing but they’re not taking into account the needs of people,” says Hughes. “You see the people in wheelchairs on the high street. The bank staff know the community – if someone doesn’t come in as normal they will share that information with the family.”
In this retirement town, where over a third of it’s residents are over the age of 60, many are concerned about how closing the last banks in town will impact the Hornsea community. Susan Stoddart, a 68-year-old Hornsea resident, understands banking is moving online but says:
“It is such a shame the banks are going. It will take so much away from Hornsea. We need people not computers. They don’t give you a smile and a good morning.”
Many young people in the town, whilst typical of their generation in that they rarely use bank branches themselves, are also opposed to the closures. Software developer Dave Yeomans, 31, has not set foot in a branch for over a year but he is still concerned about the older generation.
“Older people are not luddites,” he says. “Many simply don’t have the access or the inclination to take up these technologies.”
The banks may want people to believe that this is a story of enlightened pensioners managing their ISAs and direct debits on their smartphones. Yet five million British people don’t even use the internet. This is the major dilemma for Britain’s big banks. How do they adapt to the rapid take-up of digital banking without leaving vulnerable customers and small businesses that rely on branch services behind?
Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, said:
“Banking is in the midst of a customer-led revolution with more people than ever before making use of digital innovation and alternative ways to bank to help manage their money on a daily basis. However, banks are very aware of the role branches play in the community and conscious that customers and businesses should not be left behind. That is why decisions to close branches are never taken lightly and why it remains important that customers continue to be able to access banking services if a local bank branch closes.”
The problem for Hornsea residents is that the closures will make it difficult for customers to access bank branches. After June, the nearest Lloyds will be in the outskirts of Hull, 16 miles away, a two-hour round trip by bus. The nearest NatWest will be in Beverley, 13 miles away.
Patrick Finn, a Lloyds Bank customer, emphasises:
“To pay anything in involves a 35-mile drive to Hull. If you live in a reasonably sized town you shouldn’t have to travel for 40 or 50 minutes to get access to a bank.”
A number of residents contacted MP Stuart Graham who wrote to both banks to raise concerns. He said:
“It’s important that banking services are available to everyone, not just the tech savvy and people who are able to drive to alternative branches. I have also asked the banks to provide information on how alternative face-to face banking services can be accessed by my constituents.”
In response, Lloyds plans to introduce a mobile bank van service. NatWest says it will employ a community banker based in Hornsea to serve customers in the area and help them access alternatives, including basic banking services at a Post Office counter in the back of a local shop.
Nevertheless, the town’s politicians are not placated by the pared down services Lloyds and RBS are offering. Anne Padgett, the town’s Mayor, is drawing up plans to launch an independent bank to make up for the vital services being lost. Councillor Brian Morgan suggests an alternative currency as part of a possible solution. He says that this has already been used successfully in several other towns and cities and would help to boost the local economy, since money spent within the town remains there. Brian argues that local currencies are “good examples of how towns can be masters of their destinies.”
There is some scepticism as to how a local currency would be able to fill the void left by the loss of the banks. However, there is the possibility of bringing a Credit Union to the town which may be able to fulfil this need in the immediate future.
Despite opposition and protest, there is no doubt that the closures will go ahead as planned. Figures given by a spokesman for NatWest show that, since 2012, the way in which people use the NatWest Hornsea branch have changed dramatically. Transactions in the branch have reduced by 23 per cent since 2012 with only 70 customers visiting on a weekly basis. 58 per cent of customers are now choosing to bank digitally. Whilst figures, published online by Lloyds’ own review of the Hornsea branch, show that 814 customers use the branch, they say that the number of customers who visit on a regular basis continues to decline.
David Dunning, a former employee of NatWest, and author of ‘Hornsea, A Reluctant Resort’ says:
“There is still a lot of debate going on about how we can replace the disappearing banks. The reality is that they will not change their minds, the small local branch is no longer a viable option. We must embrace the 21st century. Everybody – individuals and businesses alike – must stop worrying about how to do their conventional banking and focus on doing things differently. I haven’t written or received a cheque in 10 years and I rarely carry cash. There are better ways of handling your finances.”
RBS and Lloyds argue closures are a necessary response to customers’ shift online. The big five lenders, which includes HSBC, Barclays and Santander, also argue their profits are under more pressure than many Britons realise, with competition from a growing band of challengers and low Bank of England interest rates. These pressures have led to several rounds of aggressive branch closures already.
Record bank closures are part of a wider story of building pressure on Britain’s high streets, with retailers also pulling out in the face of intense competition from online rivals.
This does little to appease the fears of pensioners at the Hornsea coffee morning. Hilary Brant, a 68-year-old resident, concludes:
“I dread the day we have no banks, I recently had to sort out a very complicated and unusual procedure that would have been impossible to do online, I fear for the future.”