We hear plenty about the ‘Last Branch in Town’ and banks deserting small towns and villages. But a little less about banks deserting en masse certain parts of the major cities, writes Douglas Blakey
This is not meant to read like some left-wing rant; anyone who knows the writer will acknowledge that he can bore for the Scots Tory cause, albeit that has historically been a rather less strident form than the English variety.
It could I suppose be any UK city but in this case I happen to be writing about Edinburgh, the headquarters location of four UK banks (RBS, Lloyds, Tesco Bank and Sainsburys).
I reside in a sort of no-mans land concrete jungle of new build flats. Turning out of the development to the left, a 10 minute saunter brings you to Stockbridge.
All of the major banking brands are represented, in among Waitrose, a book shop, wine bars and the well known coffee shop brands.
If anything, the area is over-branched both for coffee and banks.
Take a right turn out of the development and walk for 10 minutes in the opposite direction brings one towards the areas of Granton and Pilton.
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The contrast could not be sharper. For Waitrose, read Lidl. For a book shop, replace with a heavily fortified bookmakers.
Not a coffee shop in sight. And not a single bank branch or ATM. Correction, I found one ATM, the type that charges the natives £1.75 a throw, the locals being among the least able to afford such a charge just to get access to their money.
Wandering back towards chez Blakey, I chanced upon the Pilton branch of TSB. It would not win any prizes as a potential Branch of the Future but Praise Be for TSB: it seems to be about the last branch standing in the area.
It is well documented that since bank branch numbers peaked at around 15,000 in the 1970s, one in three units have closed.
At the end of 2013, total branch numbers were around 9,700. That number will of course continue to fall and a figure of 7,500 seems a reasonable forecast within the next five years.
There is however no excuse for the banks en masse to desert the less salubrious areas of the major cities; digital branches and small community branches with a handful of employees are quite feasible.
Regulation and coercion will not work nor arguably is it appropriate. UK and Scottish governments and local government banking business is of course widely sought after banking business.
Perhaps the next time RBS and Lloyds are pitching for public sector deposits for example, some regard might be had to the respective banks commitments to inclusivity; Sockbridge could manage quite well with one less branch being diverted northwards in the city.