Finance and Lending

Banking for the rest of us

The other morning I found myself at Lanterns Mall before 8 a.m. I know what you are thinking: It’s a very unusual sight to see me anywhere out and about before ten, unless it’s a conference where - coincidentally - a full, hot breakfast is being served.

Okay, so my scheduled has changed, and I really don’t mind, as it stops me working until two or three in the morning.

So, anyway, the point of this anecdote is that as I went to the ATM, I noticed a line, a self-imposed queue, already formed and about 20 people deep, stretching back to the tables and chairs where it started to get ragged.

So as not to block the ATMs, this line was set back a little ways and it was odd to see it kind of in the middle of nowhere. The people in it were waiting for the bank to open. I’ve written about bank queues before but this column is about how long they can survive as an endangered human social activity here in Barbados, with the news that yet another branch is biting the dust.

Scotiabank is merging its Holetown branch with its Warrens branch on July 19. There was a time when branch banking was promoted as proof of a bank spreading its wings out into the community and plucking the profits off the trees out there in the suburbs, small towns and so on, as this nation grew up and its business centers multiplied.  

Not so these days. Branches are being trimmed or completely cut off, and the banks announce the closures with reserved glee, apologizing for any inconvenience caused, but of course assuring of continuing excellent service, and inviting us to move more of our transactions to the Internet.

From July 19, customer accounts at the Holetown Branch will be automatically transferred to the Warrens Branch, which, says Scotiabank in its press release, “offers an enhanced customer experience, including a Premium Banking Centre with reserved parking…” Premium banking, did you say? As far as I know, with premium banking you have to have a premium amount in your bank account.

For the rest of us, Scotia will maintain an ATM at Rubis Sunset Crest in Holetown.

Scotia opened its first branch here in Barbados in 1956, and followed up with Worthing in 1964, Holetown in 1965 and Black Rock in 1967. If my arithmetic is correct, then Holetown is closing after 54 years of service to that town. My question is whether those long lines will increase, with customers from the closed branch going over to the new one where their accounts have been re-located. Or will they as the bank would no doubt prefer, take the hint and try to do a lot more of their banking on-line?

In its statement, Scotiabank said it remained committed to Barbados, and intended to continue to be “an employer of choice, valued corporate citizen and business partner.”  

But, my friends, you can see the general thrust, not only here, but in the general trend I have seen. It’s like an airline: You want personalized service? Well, book first class (premium banking). Otherwise there’s economy (ATMs) for the rest of you.

What we had come to expect as the same service for everyone is now gravitating up the chain to customers with more value in the eyes of the business.

In banking, the rest of us will be reduced to blips on a computer screen, or a voice on the telephone talking to a computer.

Patrick R. Hoyos is a Barbadian journalist who focusses on business and the economy. He is CEO of Hoyos Publishing Inc., publisher of this website and the annual Who's Who in Barbados Business.

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Banking & Insurance