Doesn’t our duty to older consumers extend to online banking?

I listened last night to the Up all Night radio phone  which – despite other topics being available – was dominated by elderly people complaining their local bank branch had been closed. People were taking about 3 hour train and taxi rides to visit a branch. They were phoning in, emailing in and texting in – concerned about using digital banking.

This morning my  twitter feed contains this

Why the problem is now acute

I am not in the pay of a bank but I do see the expense of keeping open branches where tellers and support staff are so under-deployed. Ros Altmann is right to see the closure of bank branches as a windfall to shareholders and I hope she considers coordinating some action to ensure that the elderly are not excluded from online and telephone banking.

The arguments for keeping branches are well rehearsed but they look increasingly weak. The only retail banking activity that can’t be carried out online is the physical withdrawal and depositing of cash. Cashpoints are usually available at supermarkets and petrol stations and excellent telephone banking is also available for those nervous about banking online. I don’t support arguments that banks are financial social clubs, that’s patronizing and  wrong.

Time to get more of  UK’s elderly accessing online and telephone banking

Isn’t it time we looked at this problem the other way round? Elderly people can do internet banking and many do. They can use devices that make it easy for them to pay in cheques , pay bills and set up direct debits

For the cost of keeping banks open , banks could close branches and provide the physical support to elderly people to allow them bank digitally.

I’m suggesting  a coordinated campaign organized by the charities for the elderly and focusing on delivering support through the places older people go – their clubs, places of worship and health hubs like surgeries and outpatients. This work is already going on and I can see evidence of it on the web. 

But getting to places like The Royal British Legion and offering help using the internet is a partnership waiting to happen. What better way to show you are taking the consumer duty seriously?

This campaign could and should focus on getting elderly people help with the instillation of home broadband, the purchase of simple devices enabled to access the web and training on simple skills needed to navigate banking apps.

Banks should be targeting resource at the over 70s with a view to making it unusual for any pensioner not to have had the opportunity to bank online.

Making it easier for carers, family and advisers to help

As this kind and sensitive article in the Daily Mail, points out, the most able to provide this support are younger relatives with the skill and motivation to help.

Many elderly people are prepared to do their banking with their children or carers and while there are obvious risks from sharing security details, I’ve got first hand experience of managing affairs both under power of attorney and through tutoring. Financial advisers – either to the family or to the elderly themselves, can help a lot.

More could be done to make the joint management of online accounts safer and more popular. Arguments that accounts are less secure digitally than through branch banking don’t hold much water, elderly people are vulnerable to fraud however they manage their money and the worst danger is that by closing banking branches, elderly people store cash at home.

It looks urgent that we pay attention to this area of vulnerability in our banking system as the cost of maintaining the branch networks relative to usage can only increase.

Do you agree that we have a consumer duty to help the vulnerable old get access to on-line or phone based banking? Have any firms written such support on digital banking into their consumer duty implementation plans?

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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10 Responses to Doesn’t our duty to older consumers extend to online banking?

  1. Adrian says:

    Henry, although I can agree as a boomer my wife’s aunt is 91 and can’t fathom a computer lett alone a smartphone and is also hard of hearing and full of shot term memory loss so online banking whether by computer and phone is a no no. She does hers by a visit to a bank.
    How would you envisage her being served in the future?

  2. henry tapper says:

    It’s great that she’s getting out and about but wouldn’t she enjoy her trips more if she didn’t have to go to the bank? I’d be looking at a power of attorney if she’s really struggling, but I don’t know her or her circs.

  3. Richard Chilton says:

    The track record of getting older people to do financial things online isn’t very good. After a few years of limited success in improving the nation’s financial capability, the old Money Advice Service started a “What Works” programme to explore what would be effective. For older people, the conclusion was “Online skills sessions engage older people, but they don’t necessarily use their new online skills to manage money differently”.

    There is also the issue that some older people just don’t have the able and trusted relatives or friends to help them out, in the way that is common for middle-class people who were born and brought up in the UK.

    Getting a bank to do everything online can also be a problem. I don’t know if things have improved, but just before Covid the only way I could set up an executors’ account was by doing it in a bank branch. Worse, if you wanted to have it in more than one executors’ name, they all had to be in the same branch at the same time. This could be quite a problem if they lived in different parts of the country and had jobs.

    A more recent issue was setting up a new bank account for a residents’ association. It could only be done in a bank branch and took a total of 6 hours there for the chair of the organisation and 8 hours for the treasurer, split over multiple visits.

    • henry tapper says:

      That’s depressing news Richard. I know how hard you guys have worked on issues like this so your comments make me doubt my optimism.

      I would like to see more emphasis on solutions other than keeping banks open for the “digitally excluded”.

      Do you think we’ll see some old people getting into financial trouble? If so – what is likely to be the trip-switch and what can banks do to protect their more vulnerable clients?

  4. Ian Neale says:

    Unless your bank is one which has an arrangement with the Post Office to allow depositing cash, there is no alternative but to travel to a branch to pay cash into your account. This is a need more widely shared than is commonly realised in the ‘financial services’ industry. We used to have a Minister for Financial Inclusion; perhaps it was lobbying by the banks that made the Government abandon that brief foray. Accessing your bank account is actually being made even more difficult by banks driving customers onto using mobile phone apps, which is a step too far for some who can just about manage internet banking with a computer.

  5. Adrian says:

    Henry, sounds great in theory problem is she views these as part of her diminishing social circle and she is fiercely independent. My main point is banks and others forget there is a swathe of people who cannot (not do not want to) cope with the electronic age.and as we get older we may fall into this category as our faculties fail. Power of Attorneys only work if you have reputable relatives etc etc

    Suffice to say not a fit all solution……

  6. ros altmann says:

    Very interesting comments here – I think this all goes to show that there are serious differences among the population and the drive for ‘modernisation’ of banking may suit banks and their shareholders but is truly disenfranchising millions of elderly people. They will never get online, they often can’t afford a computer and even if they have a mobile phone they can’t afford wi-fi and other connectivity or live in areas without good signal. I think we underestimate the numbers of elderly people who are isolated, often at home, with just shopping, posting a letter or other trips as needed.
    Having never learnt to use a computer, those in their 80s and 90s will be around for another 10 or 20 years perhaps, and are unlikely to do so. They would undoubtedly struggle with someone trying to make them go online. So they are being marginalised by society in the name of progress (aka cost-cutting and profit enhancing) for the crime of being digitally disabled. Banking, parking, shopping are all essential services, parts of people’s life, which they should not be excluded from.

  7. Dave C says:

    I’ve been using computers since I was three years old in the early 1980s.
    I still want local branches to go get problems resolved by competent people.
    And do I benefit from these cost savings? No, I don’t think so.

    Many online/digital experiences can now end up as support black-holes with no escape except talking to competent people at the few remaining branches available.

    My current setup is Starling for online/out and about spending, and my business accounts. Efficient apps on phone,
    Handkesbanken for my current account (real people in local branches as support), post office access for cash etc.
    Yorkshire Building Society for cash savings etc, consistent and continued very strong in branch support/services.

    There is no need anyone should support banks with poor support and branch/network coverage.

  8. Martin T says:

    Another problem with bank accounts, which I have experienced personally, is trying to comply with the increasingly difficult ‘Know Your Customer’ requirements. Two unincorporated social clubs found it so difficult they closed their accounts and now one accounts for everything in cash and the other uses a bank more attuned to small not-for-profits, a small dormant company moved from one major bank, whose process seemed to be designed for the likes of Shell, to a rival who accepted that any income forecast was meaningless. I have also heard of churches struggling to have existing banking arrangements continue because of their unique status under charity law. Even the Post Office doesn’t offer a solution if you have large amounts of cash to deposit, for example banking the collections from the RBL Poppy Appeal.
    For my personal accounts I don’t have an issue as branches still exist locally and I can use the post office for deposits. But for all the other relationships, as noted above, there have been numerous issues.
    I’d like to see a public duty imposed on the Post Office to provide the full range of counter services, such as cash deposits, which cannot be replaced with a phone/internet for all banks/deposit takers.

  9. Pingback: The post office – our bank of last resort | AgeWage: Making your money work as hard as you do

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