Banks must not use ‘digitisation’ as an excuse to close branches

No-one should be excluded from the new industrial revolution


Barely a month passes when Unite is not given notice that a bank is closing more local branches because customers are now increasingly banking online.

In July 2016, Move your Money reported that:

‘the pace of branch closures has accelerated rapidly in the last few years.

In total, Britain has lost 53 per cent of its bank branches since 1989, leaving 1,500 communities with no bank, and another 840 with only one bank remaining.

More than 600 branch closures have occurred in the last year alone.’

We are told continually that digitalisation and automation have transformed the way consumers deal with their banks. There is no denying that banking is changing for many.

Increasingly customers are using apps, fewer people use cheques, there are fewer routine calls to contact centres.

But none of the technology replaces the experience or skill that bank staff hold. No app or website can provide some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society with the face to face financial assistance they need.

So as our banks rush to exit their local communities, they leave behind thousands of loyal customers and local businesses, who simply don’t recognise the stories of low ‘footfalls’ across the banking sector.

Exporting jobs

Does digitalisation need to result in the mass branch closures, offshoring of work and job losses sweeping the UK’s banking sector?

Unite members working in banks up and down the country serve thousands of customers every single day. Those customers depend on their expert knowledge in an increasingly complicated financial world.

Just last week Royal Bank of Scotland – still majority taxpayer-owned – transferred yet more work to Poland and India. The week before, Lloyds Banking Group did the same.

Unite has argued strongly that there is no justification for this majority taxpayer-owned bank to still be exporting work abroad and cutting staff here in the UK; a programme of offshoring that puts short-term cost control interests above the well-being and livelihoods of UK workers and their families.

A new industrial revolution

It should be noted that the march of technology is creating jobs or ways of working we simply couldn’t imagine just a few years ago.

The challenge is how we use new technologies to stimulate good work instead of just moving work to Ukraine, India, China, or wherever will be the next lowest common denominator.

Unite is challenging the financial services industry to use the possibilities for a flexible working life brought through digitalisation.

Yes, digitalisation will change the world of work as we see it today. It is an industrial revolution – and previous industrial revolutions have created jobs.

What we don’t know is whether this one will also create jobs and growth.

Our challenge is to now ensure that this growth will happen in the UK as well as in places like India and China. This will mean new demands, new ways of working for managers – for workers and indeed for trade unions.

Dominic Hook is national officer for finance at Unite the Union

See: FTSE 100 bosses paid 144 times average wages 

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