“Betrayed by Barclays”

Catchy title, isn’t it? Not my idea of sensationalism this time – it’s what the press called this article last week about the mayor of a village whose local bank branch is closing despite a promise that they will stay.

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The article is so hungry for a spectacular sob story it’s full of idiosyncrasies and contradictions. The mayor says she has changed banks 3 times in 18 years already (likely making her the most prolific switcher in the UK!) chasing the elusive brick-and-mortar banks and with Barclays being the last remaining one in town, the sense of doom and gloom should be overwhelming, yet despite that, she says she will use Barclays online banking from hereon.

She goes on to say a lot of “the older people” will not feel safe doing so as well “even if they have internet access”.

Now, if we ignore the rest of the article, that proceeds to meander in and out of intelligent discourse by naming the local Postal Office as the only saving grace as it will continue dealing with cash and cheques and has a thriving ATM but goes on to say local businesses that still deal in cash are likely set to perish as they will have to travel to deposit their earnings to other bank branches as if the authors never heard of deposit machines, we are still left with this important piece of the puzzle to ponder:

“Barclays says the Llanidloes branch is closing because of falling use. It says only 104 regular customers use it exclusively for their banking.”

104.

How many employees in that branch? 4-5? Let’s assume it’s much less than that. Let’s assume it’s 2. They each serve 52 people. Wow. That’s quite the luxury. Don’t get me wrong, Barclays has posted quite the handsome numbers over the last few years but they are sure squandering it by blurring the line between Retail and Private Banking with what looks like involved, personal service. Perchance they imagined a new service model and are charging these online banking mistrusting ageing population a hefty fee for their customs so they can afford to keep serving them.

Only they can’t. Afford it, that is. They can’t afford serving the 104 Llanidloesilites any more than they can afford serving a vast majority of their retail banking customers really but that’s a story for another stormy night. Do you know who can afford that ratio of employee per customer? These guys. Even they couldn’t sustain offering much for cheap to the Dick and Joe with under £250,000 and had to hike their annual fees for a mere current account to £900 a few months ago.

The harsh reality is that the business models that retail banking engages in today have been skimmed of margins to where they only make sense in digital circumstances and while some brick and mortar will always remain, either as cost of business and brand museums or as community smart hubs such as the stat-of-the-art one BOI has in Dublin’s Grand Canal unless banking pulls up its socks and grasps at the opportunity to become the information and financial hub of a customer’s life by applying business models transcending traditional products and imagining new ones centred around people’s true money needs, we will all have to accept a local branch is not an immutable human right but a luxury.

Llanidloes is surely a  very nice place with 104 nice branch goers but sadly, they will have to add “local bank branch” to the long list of things they can’t have such as a Primark shop or an Opera house.

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