When did you last visit the bank? The chances are it was a long time ago.
Apparently, according to the banks themselves, the majority of us now use online banking.
I must admit to being a convert to online banking, albeit a fairly recent convert.
Not that long ago I was still writing cheques and getting bank statements through the post every month.
I clung on to the traditional ways to bank and pay bills for as long as I could.
It’s only in the last couple of years that I stopped sending cheques every three months to pay the electricity bill.
That only came to an end because we had a smart meter installed and the man who put it in advised us that we were on a very expensive tariff. So we changed to a cheaper one which included paying the bill by direct debit.
It was the last cheque I was regularly writing.
Increasingly I was noticing that even bills for relatively small things were stating the preferred payment method was online.
Up until this point my reluctance to bank online was two fold. Firstly, we didn’t have very good broadband at home, and secondly, I was concerned about security.
But after talking to friends and family who had been online banking for years and who had nothing but praise for its speed and convenience, I took the plunge.
I have to say I now love it. I pay bills in an instant from the comfort of home and can check balances whenever I want rather than wait for the monthly paper version to drop through the letterbox.
But recently I have also had the need to use a bank. Yes, an actual physical bank with real people working inside it.
I am helping to administer the estate of a late relative and some of the transactions have had to be carried out over the counter showing the necessary documents.
The bank handling this is Lloyds and there is a branch in Saltash.
It is reasonably handy for me and saves me the hassle of going over the bridge into Plymouth.
But not for much longer! It is scheduled to close next year and Saltash, like many other towns, won’t have any banks.
I still find that hard to believe. A town without a bank!
You’d think any centre of commerce where numerous businesses are carrying out hundreds of financial transactions a day would still need the services of a bank.
Apparently not! I guess the increasing number of contactless payments means a lot of shops and businesses rarely have much need for cash these days.
Yet, as I have discovered recently, there are still some transactions that need to be done face to face in a bank, so what do we do if we no longer have one locally?
Well, the banks tell us one alternative is the Post Office. At this point I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!
I wonder when banking executives last used a Post Office.
As busy people I doubt they would have the time to stand in the queues that form daily at most Post Office counters.
The Post Office has taken on an impressive array of extra services over the years, but I am sorry to say, as far as I am concerned, they have not invested enough in staff or counter space to deal with those extra services.
Every transaction at the Post Office takes time. Whether it’s documents that need to be checked or money that needs counting, or parcels that need weighing and the questions that need to be asked about the contents of those parcels.
It all results in a rapid build-up of people waiting to be served and a shortening of tempers.
I have been in many Post Office queues recently listening to the growing chorus of tut-tut and huffs and puffs of frustrations from my fellow sufferers as we slowly lose the will to live, especially on the days when there is just one person on duty at the counter.
This is in no way a criticism of the staff. They do an incredible job and they must get a lot of stick.
I have noticed a sign up at the main Post Office I use reminding customers that abuse will not be tolerated.
So the idea that the already hard pressed Post Office staff can also take on extra banking services is deeply concerning to say the least.
I dread to think what the queues will be like.
Apparently Saltash is in line for some sort of banking hub that might hopefully take the pressure off the Post Office.
But who will suffer most from these changes, apart from the overworked Post Office staff?
It will be those without easy access to the Internet. Invariably older people, although not exclusively. Or those, who for personal reasons, don’t want to carry out their financial affairs online.
People like my uncle, who up until his late eighties still wanted to do his banking and Post Office transactions in person.
He loved the social interaction and he loved being able to take his time and make sure it was all done properly.
Inevitably with the passing of time there will be fewer and fewer people like him.
But we are in a transition phase where many people still prefer to go into a branch.
I understand the banks can’t keep branches open forever, especially if they have very few customers.
But in the meantime, I am very worried for those who do rely on their bank and Post Office branch; I fear the impact on them has been underestimated.
I hope I am proved wrong, although I am not banking on it!
Bye for now.