Community banking hubs

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Banks and community organisations are being urged to work together to set up banking hubs in rural areas that have lost their local branch.

The recommendation comes from a new study carried out on behalf of Highlands and Islands Enterprise as a result of RBS branch closures.

The report is backed up by five months of research including surveys of around 1000 customers affected by branch closures. While it focuses on the impact on Highlands and Islands communities, the research applies to remote and rural areas across Scotland, including the Scottish Borders.

It concludes that banking needs to be understood as “core to the functioning of local community infrastructure” and access to cash remains “fundamental to the viability of small retail businesses.”

The report makes a series of recommendations, including exploring bank staff using existing community buildings or local authority ‘service points’ to provide part time banking services. The reports concludes: “In some places this may offer a better service to the current alternatives in terms of privacy, comfort and online accessibility.”

RBS closed their final two Berwickshire branches this spring and the type of community hub being recommended in this report is already being trialled in Eyemouth, albeit on a smaller scale.

The once-a-month community bank allows customers to access non-cash services to help them with financial planning, replicating the one-to-one services available in branches. Eyemouth library’s next community bank will be open: August 10, 10.30am-12.30pm; and September 14.

Scottish Borders councillor Mark Rowley, executive member for business and economic development said: “The idea of community banking hubs is certainly one I think SBC should be considering.

“Banking services are vital to rural communities and I would be happy to see banks using SBC facilities across the Borders.

“The alternative - a fleeting visit from a bank van which is inaccessible to many customers - is a woefully inadequate response to the banks’ retreat from rural communities.”

Borders MP John Lamont MP, added: “The idea of banks getting together to offer services in community buildings has got to be worth exploring. When I put the idea of collaboration to RBS, they claimed it was impossible because of different IT systems. This report is evidence that the idea needs to be given serious consideration.”