In the UK, banking islands in cash deserts

Two years after the last bank closed in Denny, a town in southern Scotland, its 8,000 residents welcomed with open arms the installation of a kiosk allowing them to carry out their basic operations.

A counter, an ATM, two tablets, two advisors: A OneBanks startup kiosk installed in a Co-op supermarket represents an alternative to traditional agencies at a time when these agencies are ending up in retaliation, Internet victims and cost-seeking.

Donna Corrigan, 40, shows up with a heavy chest of coins to deposit in her account. Behind a glass table, a counselor swallows scrap metal handles into a machine while having a conversation.

Here, you can withdraw, deposit cash or pay your bills no matter which bank you are with, thanks to the application developed by the company. Real-life advisors also help people who are less technically savvy with their online banking.

When the banks in Denny closed, “you had to drive 20 minutes” to find an institution nearby, Corrigan says.

Half of the country’s 10,000 agencies will disappear between 2015 and the end of 2022, and Scotland will be the worst affected region, according to consumer association Which?.

– addicted –

The rise of online transactions has prompted banks to cut their corners on a less-used banking network. In the neighboring eurozone, the number of branches fell by 20% between 2016 and 2020, according to the European Central Bank.

Some countries are affected more than others: in the Netherlands, 44% of agencies will be closed during this period, compared to 13% in France.

However, large sections of the population are still entirely dependent on cash: around 20% in the UK, according to a study by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), which describes an elderly, rural and semi-urban population.

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In the neighboring town of Bridge of Allan, which has a population of 5,000, it is around noon and it is rush hour. Main Street comes alive with customers investing restaurants, cafes, bakeries and shops. Not a bank in sight.

The last time it “closed about 4 years ago,” she laments Jennifer Wilson, who runs a hardware store, where 40% of her turnover is still cash.

The manager can deposit part of the receipts and make the change at the local post office. But she is often very busy and then has to drive for half an hour to get to Falkirk… as her Iron Curtain bank will soon be closed for good.

– ‘Cold and sterile’ –

There were once “three banks in this village,” recalls Richard Kilburn, a 79-year-old resident who had to get used to online transactions but regretted human contact. Everything became cold and sterile.

For the poor who do not have a car, the problem is sometimes daunting: you have to take buses, even take days off, which reduces income … a real vicious circle.

British authorities are now asking institutions to assess the impact of branch closures on consumers and possible alternatives.

Major banks such as Barclays, HSBC, Lloyd’s or NatWest recently agreed to fund the alternatives together, and the country’s major ATM network, LINK, is tasked with assessing positions on a case-by-case basis.

Several options were tested, including the kiosk as in Denny’s, but also post offices, merchant withdrawals or even two “bank centers”, installed in the post office group buildings, which receive bankers from the country’s main institutions in rotation during week to welcome customers.

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Due to the success of the pilots, five new “banking hubs” have been announced, and OneBanks, which currently has three kiosks in Scotland, is planning to install another fifteen kiosks in the country.

The startup plans to expand internationally. Founder and President Duncan Cockburn says banking deserts are a “global problem”. The use of “cash will continue to decline, but it will take a long time to completely disappear.”

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