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Post Offices - Bank Branches Of The Future?

David Attenborough may soon make a programme about UK bank branches. After all, he is always interested in species threatened with extinction.

As the number of bank branches continues to fall, the search is on for new venues for community banking services. Towards the end of 2015, Post Offices seemed to be rising to the top of the list of suitable alternatives.

The suggestion that Post Offices might substitute for closing bank branches will surprise many. After all, the number of Post Offices in the UK has also dwindled alarmingly in the last 20 years.

Along with concerns about the falling number of Post Offices, there are also many commentators with misgivings about the standard of customer service on offer. Many Post Office branches are already renowned mainly for long queues and interminable waiting times. How can they hope to cope with the extra burden of providing community banking services?

One answer may be to have designated Post Office counters/ queues for those customers in search of banking services. However, physical limitations of existing premises may often make such provisions impractical. Will some Post Offices actually have to move into former bank buildings to allow adequate service standards to be achieved? No doubt grateful banks may offer good deals to facilitate such premises relocations.

Another crucial issue will be the provision of new and improved ATM services at Post Offices.

Sadly, only around half of the UK's Post Offices currently have any kind of ATM services. In many cases, such ATMs only support a basic set of transactions.

Going forward, any Post Office assuming the role of a community banking services hub will need a "Smart" ATM. Such an ATM will, for example, allow customers to deposit and withdraw cash, in the form of  both notes and coins. Environmental and cost considerations may well dictate that cash deposited is recycled within the ATM and made available for immediate withdrawal. In this way, both residents and local businesses will have convenient access to the cash needed to sustain economically vibrant communities

Of course, the role of Smart ATMs will not be confined to cash processing. All the services currently available at bank branches will need to be accessible at such ATMs, perhaps sometimes through video links to specialist financial services staff, where, for example, loans or mortgages are involved.

Post Offices may well  transpire not be the whole answer - or even a significant part of it - in terms of providing community banking services in the absence of bank branches. Other venues, such as Petrol Forecourts, may be more suitable locations.

And, of course, the new Smart ATMs may well not be operated by banks. 

In any event, whoever operates the ATMs is not the crucial issue. What is most important is that such ATMs start appearing very soon, ideally in 2016. 

There is a strong case for further bank branch closures to be delayed until Smart ATMs are available to provide the banking services every community in the UK needs and deserves.

 

Sunday, 3rd January 2016

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