Charity urges banks to support 'digitally excluded' older people
Banks and building societies must step up their efforts to support older age-friendly banking, according to a charity.
A report from Age UK said that with thousands of branch closures across the UK in recent years and an ageing population, more consideration of the needs of older customers and how these can be met is needed.
The charity argues that if some initiatives by financial firms were rolled out more widely, this could "revolutionise" the way in which they interact with older people.
It said that despite the rise in technology such as online banking, around 4.5 million over-65s remain "digitally excluded" across the UK.
Age UK said that for some, the cost of getting online is "prohibitively high", while others may lack computer or digital skills or access to training. Some may also have concerns about security issues amid frequent reports of scams and financial abuse. In addition, older people may also have particular problems with mobility and other physical issues, as well as problems remembering passwords.
Age UK argues that potential solutions could include enhanced use of the Post Office and more joint bank branches and mobile branches.
One of several examples of successful initiatives by banks highlighted by Age UK is a mobile branch banking service provided by RBS Group, which serves rural and semi-rural communities and provides services including cash transactions and bill payments.
The key ways to create an age-friendly bank should include making sure staff are trained to recognise the specific needs of older people, designing branches that are easily accessible, and introducing better call handling systems with staff speaking more clearly and being sensitive to customer vulnerability, the charity said.
Bank and building societies' new technology should be tested by older users to ensure user-friendliness, it added.
Age UK said many older people like to receive paper statements. It has seen evidence that people particularly did not like what were seen as "sneaky" ways of moving them to electronic banking statements, such as having a hard-to-see tick box if they want to continue receiving paper statements.
Carers should also be able to carry out banking functions for the person cared for without breaching the terms and conditions of accounts, the report argued.
Age UK also called for more help for older people to find the best interest rates for their savings more easily and said they should not be defaulted onto poor interest deals.
It also said "arbitrary" age limits on some financial products, such as mortgages, should also be removed.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "Older people often tell us about the challenges they face when it comes to managing their money.
"The increasing reliance on online methods is difficult for many and bank branch closures can leave older people feeling high and dry, but we have been heartened to hear about some creative and successful approaches that work well for older people and for banks and building societies too.
"The examples highlighted in our report show that by listening to older people and implementing new approaches intelligently the financial services sector can make real progress towards meeting the needs of an ageing society. That's why we're urging every financial service provider to put 'age-friendliness' at the heart of their propositions. Not only is this good for older people, it can make great business sense as well."
A spokesman for the British Bankers' Association (BBA) said: "Bank branches play an important role in the life of local communities, which is why decisions to close down branches are never taken lightly.
"The protocol we have developed with the support of Government, consumer and business groups ensure that provisions are put in place so that customers are able to access banking services in their local area.
"High street banks are determined to leave no one behind and realise that using the latest technology is not for everyone, which is why more than 20 banks have done deals to allow you to do basic banking through Post Office branches. That means there are more places where you can bank than ever before, with more than nine out of 10 people now living within a mile of a bank branch or post office.
"And with the addition of innovations such as mobile banking, it is now easier than ever for people to do their banking. You can check your balance, pay back a friend digitally or speak to your bank for advice 24/7."
The Building Societies Association (BSA) welcomed the report and said it agrees older people need access to financial services in a way that suits them.
Hilary McVitty, a spokeswoman for the BSA, said some older people are keen to embrace digital advances, while others prefer to do business face-to-face.
She said: " Branches remain core to the way that building societies operate, in the past 12 months we've seen a number of new branches open in new locations.
"Many more societies are spending substantial sums to refurbish existing premises, often with features such as lower counters with stools or seats.
"Serving the growing needs of older borrowers is a key priority in our sector and around half of all building societies have raised or abolished their upper age limit for mortgage lending, we anticipate more will follow."
Graeme Hughes, group director, distribution, Nationwide Building Society said: "We welcome this report from Age UK and will continue to work closely with them to promote accessibility for all our members."