Good bank service is still in local branches

Clydesdale Bank in Kirkcaldy High Street is to close
Clydesdale Bank in Kirkcaldy High Street is to close
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By Allan Crow

A century and more of local service is ending because both have been branded ‘‘unsustainable.’’

Of course neither branch is anything of the sort - this is just another round of cuts wrapped in the usual bubble of soothing corporate speak of ‘‘meeting the changing needs of its customers.’’

I’m sure every single account holder can’t wait to have zero service in town from a bank they’ve probably been with for generations and, up until now, trusted to look after their money. Their needs haven’t changed that much.

The way they do their banking business certainly has - the days of standing silently in line clutching our pass books have long since gone, along with the bowler hat the bank manager once wore to work.

But there is still a clear desire for a branch locally where people can get advice and speak face to face with people they know and, crucially, trust.

Other banks recognise that and have adapted their business models to suit without abandoning key towns such as Kirkcaldy and Cupar, to name but two on the Clydesdale hit list of around 20.

I didn’t appreciate how important that local base was until the other week.

I have afairly ambivalent attitude to banking. Each month my salary is paid in. I spend it. Sometimes columns ‘A’ and ‘B’ even balance.

But, I had some bank stuff to sort out this month and got absolutely nowhere on the phone. The call handler was woeful and her sole solution was wholly unsuitable and didn’t actually take on board any of the questions I’d asked.

One visit to the Bank of Scotland in the High Street and everything was sorted.

The service was first class, I got the help I needed and everything was signed off within half an hour.

They also took the time to offer a financial check up which -resulted in savings on my mortgage and contents insurance. Job done.

I’m also £40 to the good because the call centre offered me compo I didn’t ask for - bizarrely it was the only way they could close the call because I’d said I wasn’t happy, mistaking that Scottish disposition as a formal complaint. It never was, but cheers for the cash anyway!

But the experience got me thinking about my ‘‘changing banking needs’’ and how the bank met them.

Had I been a Clydesdale customer in one of its ‘‘unsustainable’’ branches, I’d have had no option but to bang my head against the wall while dealing with an anymous person in a call centre somewhere between Leeds and Mumbai. The chances of having a follow-up conversation with the same operator were also pretty much nil.

If the experience was the same, then they’d have offered one pre-set, rigid, prescriptive solution which simply didn’t work or make sense.

Would they have taken the time to look at my account and suggest a check-up? Nope.

Would they have set up meetings with a mortgage advisor and looked at all aspects of what I was paying, and if they could find a better deal would I be interested? In other words, met my banking needs?I doubt it.

On the end of a phone, you’re just another transaction to be processed. That’s fine for setting up a standing order or any other simple process, but when it comes to more detailed matters where there may be all manner of questions, there is simply no substitute for speaking face to face with someone armed with all the relevant paperwork you may need.

In closing its Kirkcaldy and Cupar branches, the Clydesdale is removing that choice from its customers.

I sincerely hope their call centres and online alternatives are as flexible and every bit as helpful as the staff who have been familiar faces behind the counter for many, many years.