Sunday 18 August 2019

Over-the-counter cash limits show how those with little money matter little still

Minister Michael Noonan
Minister Michael Noonan

Seamus Boland

There is a date in the future when the good people in Bank of Ireland will have moved on to be replaced by some kind of artificially intelligent beings. These will probably look like human beings, but will clearly lack the traits necessary to denote humanity. It will not be surprising then if they make decisions on a regular basis that, on the face of it, will exclude the concerns of ordinary people.

Their decisions will look like the one announced on Tuesday by the Bank of Ireland to limit the interaction between human beings for tasks such as lodging or withdrawing sums of money over the counter.

They will happily justify paperless billing, even though not everyone uses or has access to email, either because they have no internet connectivity or they have not learned how to use it. The corporate message, completely devoid of irony, will promote the new era of modern banking and in a very subtle way smooth over the concerns and practical difficulties which this will cause to some of its customers. According to the bank, only 4pc of us use its services in this way and so it feels it is time to phase them out completely.

Thankfully, there was a slight change of heart on Wednesday, following criticism from Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

It is hoped the new decision recognises that a significant section of our population would be inconvenienced by this move.

In the main, they are elderly and deal with smaller sums of money. Many live in isolated rural areas and because of the latent arrival of information technology will not be as familiar with using computers.

Many will be individuals who, when lodging their money will need to talk to someone about other, related account issues.

In terms of people affected by social exclusion, Irish Rural Link believes that in rural Ireland there is a hardcore of 80,000 families affected.

Many will lack the access and capacity to bank online.

Older people, famous for hoarding cash in their homes, have been consistently advised to lodge it in the banks, credit unions or post offices.

For many, this means lodging a small amount on a regular basis, while at the same time having the opportunity to be reassured by staff that their affairs are in order.

The inconvenience caused by this new order will unfortunately give another message to the criminal world that older people are now more likely to have more money in their homes than usual, thus adding to the insecurity highlighted in the Irish Independent recently about rural security.

The manner of the announcement is also disturbing, in that at the very least it exposes a huge disconnect between the banks and their customers, in particular customers whose wealth is small and who are unlikely to add massive value to their accounts.

The last few years has shaken people's faith in the banking system.

The belief that the system has little to offer the ordinary person or small business is strong and is only underlined by this decision.

Belatedly, and after a huge outcry, the bank has realised its mistake and at least had the bottle to admit it - or at least change the brutal nature of its implementation.

In the future, Bank of Ireland and other banks, who are likely to be planning similar tricks, could start by talking to people who are likely to be affected.

If, as they say, only 4pc of the population uses the counter and this is in decline, then why not show some patience and spend time educating their customers in the use of technology so they can feel comfortable about it.

They could make sure that there will always be someone from the bank available to discuss their affairs when required.

They could put resources into assisting people to learn how to use computers and learn the intricacies of internet banking.

In Irish Rural Link we have shown that with the help of computer training, resourced by the Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, thousands of older people are adapting to the brave new world of computer use, whether it is Skyping grandchildren in Australia or banking online.

The Bank of Ireland announcement demonstrates that the banks have learned nothing from recent times and that the more ordinary the account is, the less it matters.

Seamus Boland is CEO of Irish Rural Link

Irish Independent

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