I generally have little time for banks but the recent Lloyds Bank adverts ‘By the side of people who have to bank from home’ plumbs new depths.
There are similar campaigns from most of the banks pretending that they are helping customers through the pandemic when, in fact, they’re just using it to drive more people towards the channels that make them the most money.
For many months from the start of the lockdown my local branch decided to reduce its opening hours to 10am until 2pm and then when it was open refused to let anyone in.
At the same time it took over an hour for me to get through to them on the phone. I never did get through, just gave up. Seems to me the only side they are is on the side of their profits.
How underhand it is to pretend they are helping people at a time of crisis when, in fact, they are just making life easier for themselves.
Banks have been behaving like this for as long as I can remember. My mum, then in her 60s, used to complain about being frogmarched to the cash point machines of the bank now called Santander when she just wanted to speak to a human being.
In truth this switch from physical to online banking is widening the societal divide just as vulnerable people need more support than ever due to the pandemic.
Poorer, elderly, disabled people and those who live in rural areas are the most likely to be left behind, as more bank branches and cash machines close, campaigners have warned.
Among these groups are many who increasingly depend on online services for their finances, as the prospect of yet further lockdown restrictions over the winter – especially for the vulnerable – becomes more likely.
Natalie Ceeney of the Access to Cash Review, a campaign, said many pensioners or others on low incomes could not always afford computers and smartphones to facilitate the switch to managing their money online.
“I’ve spoken to Parkinson’s sufferers who struggle using ATMs, let alone mobile banking. Britain is going digital, but we need to make sure this process includes everyone. Otherwise we create a two-tier system that will leave some of the poorest and oldest in our society behind,” she said.
She added rural dwellers with poor mobile phone or internet connections were also often excluded.
Roughly four million over-65s did not use the internet at all before the pandemic, according to the charity Age UK.
The charity’s director Caroline Abrahams said growing numbers were now using online services following a string of bank branch closures, despite many suffering lack of dexterity, sight loss and even cognitive decline.
“Galloping bank closures and the removal of ATMs are hitting many older people hard and it is the responsibility of our retail banks to make sure there are effective, easily accessible non-digital alternatives in place for them to use instead. The ability to carry out everyday banking activities is, after all, something none of us can do without,” she said.
It’s shocking really, hugely profitable global enterprises pretending to help vulnerable people at a time of crisis when they are doing no such thing.