My Column

Banks black hole sucks for the high street

  • Date: Monday 15th April 2019
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It’s not often that you go to your local bank to cash a cheque, only to find that the entire bank has actually disappeared.

That very thing happened to me last week – to the point that I started to doubt my own sanity. Had a bank actually been there before? I was pretty sure it had been, but there was no proof.

There was no sign of a recognisable banking logo, no notices to indicate where the branch might have moved to, if anywhere, and the windows were all whitewashed. Just nothing.

I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing this sudden disappearing act. This banking Bermuda Triangle is happening all over the country, and it’s truly worrying.

Aside from the record number of empty high street stores, the so-called ‘Big Five’ – RBS, BBG, Barclays, Santander, and HSBC – continue to reduce their branch footprint.

It’s a sobering stat when you find that, across the biggest retail banking and building society brands, we ended 2018 with less than 7,500 UK branches. At the same time, 1,800 branches have closed, which amounts to one in five shutting their doors since the start of 2017.

With that in mind, it was interesting to note that society’s shift towards contactless and other forms of payment has hit ATM fees for Tesco Personal Finance.

The Edinburgh-based finance company last week reported a 5.3 per cent reduction in fees and commission income to £333.2 million from £351.8 million, while 1.2 million people have downloaded its app.

However, while the banks continue to cite the growing popularity of banking via mobile devices – and undoubtedly that trend is having a significant effect on the sector – they are also downplaying long-term cost reduction aims and neglecting to fully recognise the resulting impact on communities.

In other words, technology is helping to facilitate an increasingly easy decision for the banks – closing branches for good and replacing them with faceless artificial intelligence that too often doesn’t come close to meeting complex needs.

What of elderly customers who can’t navigate digital banking, or are simply too scared to adapt and manage their life savings in a way that they can’t fully trust? They still desperately need that physical point of contact – that trusted, recognisable face to help them through their banking needs.

Likewise, remote, rural communities still need that interface, partly because of less connectivity and partly because of higher elderly populations.

There are other situations where a human point of contact is still hugely valued. For complex or higher value transactions – whether it’s buying a home or applying for a loan – most prefer face-to-face banking situations in their local branch.

It’s a mistake to suggest that banks should somehow be exempt from the changes that have been wrought across our high streets due to the mass migration online, but there are very compelling reasons to retain many branches in our villages, towns, and cities.

It’s about balance at the end of the day.

In that regard, a big well done must go to Nationwide Building Society for pledging to keep open its UK branches until at least May 2021, in turn acknowledging that the closure of branches can trigger a spiral in retail fortunes in that same postcode.

Call me a traditionalist, but I like the familiarity and reassurance that the welcoming staff of a local bank branch engenders. I’m not ready to put my money where my mouse is just yet.



The top 10 UK tech destinations in the UK have been announced and Glasgow and Edinburgh are flying the flag for Scotland.

I was pleased to see Glasgow and Edinburgh take second and third place respectively, just losing out on first place to Manchester.

It’s well known that both cities are quickly becoming digital hotspots. However, despite the good rankings, CBRE’s ‘Tech Cities’ report also highlights its belief that the gap between cities is closing.

It appears that rival UK cities are closing in on attractive offers from digital businesses and Scottish cities are suffering because of a lack of available office space.

This means the competition to attract and retain tech occupiers is going to get heat up even more.

Nevertheless, our tech hubs can be proud of their progress. The specialists who are setting up in Glasgow and Edinburgh represent a new generation of innovative companies.

It’s no longer just traditional sectors like insurance and banking that are setting up north of the border. The study indicates that exciting businesses working across artificial intelligence, biotechnology and computer games technology are also appearing.

In fact, it has been said that the digital tech sector is growing three times faster than the rest of the economy which means our cities are in a really positive position.

A huge benefit to this expanding industry is the number of jobs it will create in Scotland. The need for jobs is definitely there with Glasgow ranking joint first place with Manchester for its computer science degrees.

In spite of the never-ending drama of Brexit and retail closures, this good news for Scotland is to be thoroughly welcomed.



We’ve all been there - you’ve stood in the queue, placed your order, and then handed over Scottish cash to complete the transaction, and the next thing you know they are screwing their face up and refusing your hard-earned money.

That was exactly what happened to Judy Murray in a London café when she was trying to buy some doughnuts.

A bill has now been lodged in the House of Commons calling for banknotes from Scotland to be accepted throughout the UK as legal tender.

Judy tweeted her anger and Scots all across the country sympathised with her, so the bill will be welcome news for many.

In all honestly, the real joke here is that the two doughnuts cost a whopping £9.



New research has found that most Scots are backing the introduction of rent controls to cap soaring housing costs in major Scottish cities like Edinburgh.

These caps are needed in cities where rent costs are particularly high and despite new laws being passed at Holyrood, not one council in the country has applied the Rent Pressure Zone.

In Edinburgh, over a quarter of homes in the city are private lets – which is almost double the national average.

To live in the capital, you would pay £1,807 on average a month compared to the national average of just £799.

It’s no surprise that tenants across the country are being forced into poverty due to their rent being sky-high.

This is an issue which cannot be ignored any longer.







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