If it wasn’t so damned inconvenient, it would be laughable. Barclays Bank has decided to prevent customers from withdrawing money at the Post Office. Yes, that’s right. From January, you’ll be able to pay in, but not take money out. So get ready to hunt down the last of the fast-becoming extinct free-to-use cashpoints.
This ludicrous decision flies completely in the face of the popularity of the Post Office service. Millions of such transactions were carried out last year. Given that Barclays closed 243 branches in the year and a half to August, according to Which?, leaving many customers reliant on post offices for their banking needs, it hardly makes sense. Won’t these individuals simply swap banks and take their business with them?
It’s reported that the move will only save Barclays £7m. When you consider that its profits were around £3.5bn last year, it’s hardly going to make a significant difference. More likely it’s for operational reasons. Convenience, loyalty and peace-of-mind are as nothing in comparison to the march of the cashless society, where – the theory goes at least – you can pay for everything on plastic.
Who needs cash anyway? Perhaps if you’re an international banking chief exec like Barclays boss Jes Staley, you don’t have to worry about notes and coins. If however, you’re a normal, everyday person, you might find yourself having to pay the window cleaner or give pocket money, or even, heaven forfend, shop at a market stall or a place where contactless has not yet set up camp.
It might also be the case that you don’t actually like using a card to pay for everything. I know lots of people in this category, and not just the ultra security-conscious and/or the older generation. Sometimes, cards are more trouble than they’re worth. In fact, only this week, I had to attend a leaving dinner for a colleague. The organisers sent an email asking all guests to bring the precise sum of £31, in cash, to cover the food and prevent the nightmare of trying to divvy up the bill at the end of the night.
Still, if you’re a Barclays customer, take heart. You can still deposit your cash at the Post Office and contribute to the banking giant’s profits. Didn’t Mr Staley get the memo about the need for financial institutions to be more responsive to their customers and their concerns?
In a decision which has left thousands already expressing their frustration in an online petition, Barclays has driven a coach and horses through the idea of customer service, dealing a double whammy to both banking and the Post Office network. Peter Hall, head of policy at the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, said Barclays had claimed customers would not be inconvenienced – but stressed that this was “deliberately misleading or desperately misguided”. He added: “In a great many cases, there simply will be no alternative solution for these customers.”
And it’s not just customers who are aghast. Politicians from all sides, including the Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, and the Commons Business Committee chairwoman, Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves, have expressed their indignation.
It doesn’t even make sense; why still allow deposits but not withdrawals? I’m not sure that this is written in stone in any kind of Financial Conduct Authority guidance, but surely this should form a fairly basic kind of contract. It’s only two years since, in a much-publicised promise to help customers in rural communities, the elderly and families without access to transport, Barclays joined forces with other banks to sign up to an arrangement with the Post Office to allow customers to withdraw cash, pay money in, deposit cheques and check balances. The Post Office says that last year, it handled more than 130 million such transactions, so it’s hardly an under-used service.
Although I am fortunate to have banks within easy travelling distance, I rely pretty much on my own local post office for this invaluable service. It is so much easier than trailing into town. Plus, every time I pop into the post office, I feel pleased that I am contributing in a very small way to keeping a branch alive. As Ms Reeves says, it’s essential that the future viability of the Post Office network is secured. What if this selfish decision by Barclays encourages other banks to follow suit? The whole system, which seems to work perfectly, could conceivably collapse. It would inevitably lead to further post office closures, leaving even more communities adrift. The only winner would be an irresponsible bank with its own interests where its conscience should be.