Belfast Telegraph

Banks to offer more help to elderly customers on branch closures

Britain's banks will have specially trained staff on hand and offer more help to elderly and vulnerable customers under revised guidelines on branch closures.

The British Bankers' Association (BBA) said an independent review of the industry agreement set up in May last year found lenders could offer more support and advice to customers on alternative ways to handle their finances.

The review, by Professor Russel Griggs, showed banks are following the guidelines by using the right "robustness and rigour" when deciding to shut branches and have not just used the principles as a "box ticking exercise".

But he outlined a number of improvements to help lessen the impact on bank customers as branch networks are slashed across the UK.

The updated protocol will suggest banks have specially trained staff in branches due to close to help customers with alternative banking methods and work more proactively with elderly and vulnerable customers.

It will also ask banks to commit to telling the local community as soon as practically possible about a branch closure.

The BBA said banks had agreed to the recommendations and would now work to update the protocol by the end of the year to come into effect in 2017.

Anthony Browne, chief executive of the BBA, said: "It's encouraging the review found banks have tried hard to use the protocol correctly and approach any closure with the right culture and the correct amount of 'robustness and rigour'. There is no doubt they will continue to do so.

"However, there is always room for improvement. In accepting Prof Griggs' recommendations, the sector has moved swiftly to agree to update the guidelines and in doing so offer even greater support and advice to customers."

Britain's bank branch network has halved to just over 8,000 in the past 25 years and is set to halve again in the next decade, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

It said last month that banks were increasingly referring customers to the Post Office, but in some cases even these have closed or moved.

Prof Griggs said there needed to be "significant improvements" to the guidelines.

He said: "The banks have tried very hard to close branches properly and have not viewed the protocol as just a box ticking exercise. They have approached closures with the right culture, resource and emotion.

"However, the banks have not got it totally right and could significantly improve the way closures are communicated as well as their engagement with customers and stakeholders, including better explaining their decisions."

He also recommended that banks should work with small businesses to see how they can mitigate further the real challenge of cash deposits and collection that closures bring to some of them.

He added that lenders in Northern Ireland should also sign up to the protocol for the first time.

The Post Office said it had no widespread branch closures in place and is providing a vital service for those who prefer to "continue their daily banking in a face-to-face environment".

Nick Kennett, group director of financial services at the Post Office, said: "With branches in every community, many now open for longer hours and on Sundays, we are committed to providing local services by offering the largest expansion in access to basic banking services ever."