Paul Hopkins: My money is on a cashless society
When I left school, I wanted to go to college, which I did. Initially though, to appease my father, I went for job interviews with Aer Lingus, the civil service, and the banks. On the day of interview with Bank Of Ireland, at least three score of us were left in a school hall, freezing our socks off. I was the last called for interview.
The interviewee was not much older than myself, full of his own importance, and reeked of Old Spice.
"Tell me, young man, why do you want to join our bank?"
"I don't," I said, my socks utterly frozen. "My father wants me to."
Needless to say, I got no job offer.
I mention this only because, despite the backlash to the recent attempts at branch closures and the withdraw of cash services by AIB, the majority of people believe it’s only a matter of time before local services, including cash, are significantly curtailed.
(AIB chief executive Colin Hunt has since said the bank moved "way too far and way too fast” in its proposal to remove cash services from 70 branches. That, given the backlash, the proposal should never have been made.)
A new survey, commissioned by Credit Union Development Association (CUDA) shows 60 per cent of people anticipate cash services will be removed in time, with just six per cent believing banks will retain these services.
It's likely inevitable that branches and those ATMs will go the way of that once held-esteemed member of the community, your local bank manager.
There are no longer bank managers in outlying branches, have not been for a decade or two. Those 'in charge' of what remain of branches have no clout nor say-so regarding overdrafts and such, but are rather a sort of customer liaison officer where every two-bit standing order has to get the green light at HQ from someone who really doesn't understand your circumstance, nor indeed has any desire to know you from Adam. You’re just a balance sheet.
The banks do not want to see your ugly mug inside their premises. Please use the ATM outside or internet banking or anything but direct contact, and so there are fewer employees and they keep getting shunted around the remaining branches, for fear, God forbid, you just might get to know them and develop a rapport.
So much for we taxpayers bailing out the banks by billions and they in return being asked to once again consider the circumstances of the ordinary guy in the street in these straitened times.
The doing away with ATMs kind of makes sense. We are increasingly becoming a cashless society. I don't recall the last time I had cash in my pocket. My debit card is king. And, now, even taxis must, by law, accept card payments. The only downside for me has seen me circumventing the young woman who daily sits begging outside my local supermarket as I no longer carry the odd fiver that I would regularly place in her hand, if only for her beautiful smile in return.
Meanwhile, residents of Castlepollard in Co Westmeath have taken matters into their own hands, after BOI shut their branch, by persuading an ATM operator to provide a replacement machine. Furthermore, the community has been instrumental in the move by local businessman David Murphy, of Topline Hardware, to buy the old branch and turn it into a community digital hub.
Finally, I am reminded of an old friend of mine back in those recessionary eighties who went one night with his father for a pint. It was a Monday, so only about a dozen were in the bar when my friend's bank manager popped in, spotted my friend, and said to all and sundry: "Jaysus, I am surprised to see you in here of a Monday, given the state of your overdraft."
He could have sued, of course, for slander but next day my friend went to his bank, and in front of said manager tore up his cheque book and told him in no uncertain terms what he could do with his bank. Thereafter, like our fathers before us, he kept his money in small tin boxes at the back of the kitchen cabinet — one for the bills, one for the mortgage and one for the rainy day. I am strongly considering the same.
At least that way you only have yourself to argue with — should you need to allow for the upcoming economic emergency — and not some ineffectual, trumped-up bank clerk.