GIVEN THE BEHAVIOUR of Britain’s banks over the last decade you might think that the fewer of them we see, the better. And that loud shouts of “Good riddance!” would greet every single High Street closure (of which there have lately been thousands).
It is true that for a good many people the existence of bricks-and-mortar bank buildings is a matter of indifference. These people do all their banking online and are bemused by the curious habit of Luddites engaging in monetary transactions across a counter with a real, live human being.
How quaint! How ridiculous!
The banking industry’s logic in favour of even more closures goes like this: fewer and fewer people are making use of old-fashioned, out-of-date High Street branches, hence the logical policy is cut them back through continuous closures.
It is an argument that has been used before. And to fraudulent effect.
In the 1960s, big breweries began to reduce production of cask-conditioned beer, arguing that they were ‘merely responding to a decline in demand’. For several years it looked as if cask beer would be swept away by its hi-tech successor, keg beer, which was stored and forced up from the cellar under gas pressure.
Excellent news for breweries and landlords; keg was much easier to handle and store. Today, we beer drinkers would all be drinking fizzy, tasteless brews were it not for the creation of the (‘anti-pressure’!) pressure group CAMRA – The Campaign for Real Ale or, as it was originally more clumsily called, The Campaign for the Preservation of Real Ale – which exposed the breweries’ argument for what it was: a sham.
Gradually reducing the supply of cask beer by switching more and more outlets to keg made it inevitable that less cask would be drunk. If the cask choice wasn’t there, how could you drink it?
Thus cask sales declined and the breweries cynically explained they were only responding to market forces. Whereas, in fact, they were artificially manipulating those same market forces to further their own cause. Keg was much more profitable for them than cask.
Were it not for the emergence and grassroots activities of CAMRA, this country would not now have such a fantastic and enviable network of micro-breweries offering a whole range of alternatives to the Big Six brewers and their planned dictatorship of ‘fizzade’.
Now it may be that I have led a sheltered life and have missed the market forces currently at work in the banking industry. Maybe there is a groundswell momentum, maybe there have been countless marches and demos calling for bank branches to be closed, especially in remote rural areas.
[I can just see the banners – ‘REMOVE ALL HUMAN CONTACT!’ – and hear the chants: ‘What do we want? Shut the banks! When do we want it? Now!’]
Or is this simply a case of the breweries’ scam revisited? In search of profit, do the banks simply want us all online? Aren’t they manipulating the market to make it seem a natural trend?
Why do I feel the answer to these questions is Yes?
Where is the pressure group to stop them? Who will set up CARBB (The Campaign to Rescue Bank Branches) so that in years to come we don’t sadly recall how the banks exercised the same greed and short-sightedness of those big brewers half a century earlier?
I like going into my bank. I enjoy the brief crack with the bank clerk. In fact, I like going out generally, being in contact with real people. Doesn’t everyone?
My own bank branch has shrunk the number of counter spaces from five to two, producing a regular logjam of quietly fuming customers. No doubt the plan is that such frustration and exasperation will soon persuade these same customers to pack it in and transfer to banking online. . . interesting how the system works!
As a man who only shops online when there is absolutely no alternative, I’ll be the last bank customer to be ejected from the building, defiantly waving my paying-in book as the bulldozers move in.
Not that the rest of you will notice; you’ll all be locked onto your little screens, oblivious to such acts as you do the fat cat bankers’ bidding.
For thus is modern life lived.