Banks should have duty of care to elderly customers

Back in my school days when everyone was thick and nobody had allergies, getting a job in The Bank was The Thing. It was as if being good at sums and living in a provincial town was the be all and end all. It was as if all your ills would be sorted if you could get a good job in The Bank and settle down. The Bank was the paragon of all that was respectable about small towns, like the one I hailed from.

We had three banks — one for everyone in the audience. And in one of those banks, my Dad was the porter for almost a third of a century. So I got to spend a lot of time in banks. I wore away the tops of my fingers using Brasso to polish those brass plates that shone outside every impressive bank building. I’d earn pocket money delivering the weekly statements to every house round the town. I’d make tea for long serving customers when they’d come in to “meet the manager”.  Back then, the customers were the kings. If the door was meant to shut at 3, a peep through the peephole would make allowances for special customers. And I’d help Mr and Mrs Jones up the steps and into a comfy chair while a manager made them feel good about their accumulated wealth. Or their little loan. Or any such concern. They came in expecting good treatment and good treatment they got.

Now, I’m sure that banks were as avaricious then as they are now, but back then they made a damn better job at concealing this. If you were being screwed with charges and hidden costs, then you still left with a smile. If you were chastised, it was as if you had been savaged by a lamb.

I’m not naive enough to miss the fact that the world has moved on, but I’m increasingly saddened by the way banks treat their long serving customers, riding roughshod over their fears and vulnerabilities.

I write this because this week one of the leading banks has decided that customers will no longer be able to withdraw cash with the help of a teller unless the amount is more than €700.  And you won’t be able to make cash deposits or cheque lodgments with the help of a teller unless you are putting in excess of €3,000. This is a part of the bank’s plan to make customers use ATMs and self-service devices in branches instead. (So they’ll need fewer employees )

I know many elderly people who still need the bank implicitly. They want to go in every week and make their withdrawals to pay their bills, to have money for their hand, to retain the last bit of independence they have in their lives.

They want to do this and they want to feel valued. After all, they’ve been supporting the banks for more than half a century. Society does a good enough job of making them feel excluded, old, invisible, unworthy — without the banks having to come along and kick them in the teeth.

Undoubtedly more and more people are getting tech savvy. Smartphone users are getting older. But not all people are comfortable with technology. And anyway, exposing their hesitancy and indecision at an ATM is just making them more and more vulnerable to crime. I mean now if I see someone in a queue with a teller, I will know for a fact that they are either taking out at least €700 or depositing €3,000. Thanks for the info, bank. Just what your everyday thug is looking for — a list of vulnerable marks and targets. A database of grannies to bash.

Now, they feel less of a person. Less of a customer. If they cannot use all the facilities they wish without the help of an employee or a relative, how that experience has changed for them. Having to give bank cards to relatives so that their accounts can be accessed will also undoubtedly lead to financial elder abuse within families.

It might be progress. It might reflect great on a bottom line at some be-suited board meeting with fine canapés at the end of the year, but for the customers who’ve supported the banks over the years, it is a massive change that makes them feel even more vulnerable. And less whole. 

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