Banks must ‘step up efforts’ to support older customers, charity warns

Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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HUNDREDS of thousands of older people have been left without access to banking services due to the closure of almost 10,000 banks and building societies over the last 25 years.

A report from the charity Age UK said banks and building societies must step up their efforts to support the needs of older customers - and warned that despite the rise in online banking, 4.5m over-65s remain “digitally excluded” across the UK. The charity said customers in rural and semi-rural communities had been particularly hit by branch closures.

According to the Campaign for Community Banking Services, more than half of UK banks, 53 per cent - 9,500 in total - have closed since January 1990.

It highlighted Bedale in North Yorkshire as one community that lost two banks in 2015 - NatWest and HSBC - with the remaining bank, Barclays, with reduced opening hours.

Age UK said that if some initiatives by financial firms, such as telebanking, enhanced use of the Post Office, and mobile branches, were rolled out more widely, this could “revolutionise” the way in which they interact with older people. Other 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.

Age UK also called for more help for older people to find the best interest rates for their savings said “arbitrary” age limits on some products, such as mortgages, should also be removed.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “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.”

Coun Shelagh Marshall, chairman of Future Years, the Yorkshire and the Humber forum on ageing, said the findings demonstrated the “discrimination” of older people. She said that the current financial market further impacted on pensioners, by offering “almost no interest whatsoever” on savings, with switching between ISAs to get preferable rates and getting to grips with online banking being “really hard work” for older people.

She said: “A lot of older people tell me they are frightened of internet banking. When building societies or banks close, it can be very detrimental to older people who rely on branches to withdraw their money. It can be difficult to get the advice or information you need when you are not able to talk to someone face to face.”

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.