What happens when all the banks leave town?

Posted: 14th October 2022

It’s been a couple of months since the last bank closed its doors in Brechin.

Some people have hardly noticed. They moved to internet banking years ago and rarely set foot in one of the five bank branches which once stood in the high street.

For others uncomfortable – or even frightened – of signing up to their bank’s app, it’s another inconvenience in their day-to-day life as more services move online.

Meanwhile, some businesses say they have seen a drop in footfall as fewer potential customers travel to to the Angus town from its rural hinterland to do their banking.

But moves are afoot to at last partially alleviate the problem with a banking hub – a building from which all five departed banks could operate.

BBC Scotland has spoken to some of those affected by the mass departure of banks from Brechin, and visited Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, where a new banking hub is credited with renewing a beleaguered high street.

‘We rely on banks to bring people into town’

Gavin Brymer
Image caption,

Gavin Brymer can no longer rely on high street footfall to keep his business afloat

In the past, butcher Gavin Brymer could always rely on the banks to bring people into Brechin, on to the high street and into his shop.

With the closure of the last bank in August, those days are long gone. Over the past few years he’s had to branch out into online shopping and selling his products wholesale.

“We would never get by on what comes through the door nowadays,” he said. “Eight years ago we did, but we had to move online and into wholesale to survive.”

There’s another problem for Lisa Shanks, of Goodfellow and Steven Bakery. Where can she get change for her customers?

“Now the bank’s shut, we have to phone head office to order our change, then we don’t get it until the next day. It’s awful.”

A new way of banking?

The answer to Brechin’s banking problems may lie 100 miles south in Cambuslang, where the last bank closed in 2017.

Local people travelled to Rutherglen to do their banking – and stayed there to do their shopping. But business owners had to close early to make the trip, find a parking space, and bank their takings.

They claim a new banking hub – one of the first of its kind in the UK – has revitalised the high street, with more people choosing to stay local and more businesses choosing to move into empty units.

Mark at Cambuslang bank hub
Image caption,

Mark Lauterburg helped bring the banking hub to Cambuslang

It offers a basic banking service – depositing money, withdrawing cash, paying bills – to customers of any bank. There is also a private space where customers can speak to someone from their own bank about more complex issues.

Local hairdressers, bookmakers, and pubs use it to get access to change, and to bank their takings and tips.

Mark Lauterburg, a member of the community council who led the drive for the hub, said: “Businesses were estimating that to do their business banking was taking between an hour and a half to two hours, whereas to do that now, it’s four or five minutes.”

Its day-to-day service is similar to that offered by the Post Office, without the lines of people queuing to post parcels. Customers say they appreciate being able to able access their money securely in a building which looks like a bank and feels like a bank.

‘Internet banking frightens me to death’

Frank Beckett
Image caption,

Frank says he is in “absolute terror” of internet banking

The proposition of a banking hub in Brechin is something which is of interest to people at The Crickety, a community facility in the town, where Frank is brushing up on some basic IT skills.

But no matter how proficient he becomes on his laptop, nothing will persuade him to do his banking online.

Stories of people losing their life savings to scam artists makes him fearful of sharing his personal information on the internet.

“I’m in absolute terror when it comes to internet banking,” Frank, 63, said.

“I loathe it. It frightens me to death because if something goes wrong….I’d rather go to a bank and say I’m Frank, there’s my signature, and get it sorted that way.”

Brechin Walk and Talk group
Image caption,

Members of the Brechin Walk and Talk group are frustrated by the absence of banks

Members of the Brechin Walk and Talk group miss the personal touch the branch staff offered.

Some of them have felt forced to turn to internet banking, despite reservations.

And when they want to talk to someone about their account, they travel 15 miles to Montrose – a journey often hampered by an unreliable bus service.

“It becomes an all-morning or an all-afternoon activity just to see your bank,” one member, Norman, said.

He is also the treasurer of a charity, something which can require a lot of form-filling and trips to the bank. His nearest branch is in Arbroath, a 45-minute drive away.

“You can do some things in the Post Office but it’s not quite the same,” he said.

Categories: Banking
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