Access to cash on the high street remains under threat as bank branches and cash machines are shut in droves.
Despite the fact we’ve hardly made a scratch on 2023, 102 branches have already been earmarked for closure later this year. If closures continue at this rate for the rest of the year, they will easily eclipse the figure of 619 for 2022.
Data on cash machine removals is more difficult to obtain, but since 2015, the ATM network has shrunk by more than 20,000 to around 50,000. Although the banks won’t admit it, they want to get rid of them – they’re expensive to maintain and perpetuate use of the currency they despise (cash).
Of course, there are valiant attempts by some to ensure access to cash and high street banking is maintained. Late last month, cash machine network Link announced plans for more community banks (or banking hubs as they are commonly known) – and deposit-taking services in communities where the last bank in town is shutting.
Yet Link’s plans aren’t being implemented quickly enough by Cash Access UK, the organisation set up to protect nationwide access to cash. So far, just four of the 38 proposed banking hubs have got off the ground while none of the 38 deposit services are anywhere near launching.
Under threat: Despite the fact we’ve hardly made a scratch on 2023, 102 bank branches have already been earmarked for closure later this year
These deposit services are destined for communities where all the big banks (bar Halifax, Santander or Nationwide) have pulled out. They would give small businesses a convenient place to deposit their takings. But so far, there has been no agreement over what form these services will take. Testing of various models will commence in the next two months.
Banking expert Ron Delnevo has seen his home town of Leatherhead in Surrey lose four banks in the last couple of years. When HSBC shuts its doors in July, only a post office and building society Nationwide will remain, plus a cash machine in the wall of retailer WH Smith. ‘It just doesn’t make sense,’ he says. ‘It’s not as if Leatherhead is on its knees.’
The town has been earmarked by Link for a deposit service. Although Ron says it’s welcome, he argues HSBC should not be allowed to shut until the service is up and running. Ron says Link already possesses a better deposit-taking solution, but it is being thwarted by the banks from introducing it. This is by turning all cash machines into universal deposit services, allowing customers from any bank to deposit cash at any ATM. However, the banks don’t want to play ball because of their loathing of cash machines.
Next month (Monday, March 20), the Government will debate whether all retail businesses should always offer customers cash as a payment choice. Ron believes access to cash could well become a General Election issue. ‘Every MP will see banks close in their constituency between now and 2024,’ he says.
‘Either they can sit back and do nothing, or fight back and do something about it. Access to cash should be a right. The party who seizes on this will do themselves no harm at the polls.’
Beware this ‘Heathrow’ bond…it’s a flight risk
Chasing best savings rates has taken on a new energy as interest rates notch up ever higher. But savers need to be on their guard, especially if they save online.
Reader Ron Newman alerted me to an email doing the rounds from Heathrow airport (allegedly), inviting recipients to invest in its ‘sustainability bonds’. Using material taken from Heathrow’s website on the company’s sustainability, the bogus sender (heathrow-airports.com) invites people to invest in one of three fixed-rate savings bonds.
The more invested, the higher the rate, ranging from 1.5 per cent (£10,000 minimum) through to 5.75 per cent (£25,000) and 7.125 per cent (£50,000).
As Ron says, it all looks convincing with the logos of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and asset manager Credit Suisse used to give it a ring of authenticity.
Even some of the key details given on the three bonds have been lifted from bonds previously issued by Heathrow to attract finance from institutional investors. But there are warning signs as well: ‘Heathrow are now raising funds through there [sic] sustainability Bonds for immediate action.’
No official document would make such a spelling mistake.
Scam: The sustainability bond email promising high rates
Last week, Ron said: ‘It’s amazing how genuine this offer looks and it could possibly fool a lot of people into losing their hard-earned money. How can they get away with this?’
Well, it is a scam as the real Heathrow confirmed to me. ‘This is not a communication from Heathrow and we ask customers not to engage. Our cyber fraud team has been alerted.’
Thankfully, the ‘enquire links’ in the offending email no longer work. Also, an email I sent to heathrow-airports.com came back ‘undeliverable,’ suggesting the fraudsters have run for the hills.
I’ve reported the scam to the Financial Conduct Authority (via fca.org.uk/consumers/report-scam-us). Last year, it published more than 1,800 alerts, helping prevent many consumers from losing money to scams.
Please be on your guard. Fraudsters steal £10 million from us every single day by using similar scams.
Although the Government claims that it is committed to cracking down on fraud, it’s all mouth and no trousers.
Are Lidl’s standards in freefall?
It’s heartening to learn that German supermarket Lidl has pledged to spend £4 billion this year buying food from British suppliers.
Yet this fast growing company, which, with Aldi is giving the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda a fierce run for their money, is not winning many fans for its customer service.
Reader Jackie Clark, a retired community development worker from Kent, is among those who believe that in its quest to offer low prices, Lidl’s customer standards are slipping.
Issues: German supermarket Lidl has pledged to spend £4 billion this year buying food from British suppliers
The result, she says, is surly staff, stores that are not as clean as they could be, and on occasion the selling of out-of-date produce. Jackie is not a lone voice.
Based on customer feedback, review website Trustpilot gives Lidl an underwhelming overall rating (out of five) of 1.7.
Admittedly, Asda and Morrisons come out worse and the best (Waitrose) only gets a score of 1.9.
But what’s your view? In the quest for value for money against a backdrop of rampaging inflation, are customer service standards at big supermarkets floundering?
Please drop me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Increased dividend for 50th consecutive year
Congratulations to investment trust JP Morgan Claverhouse on increasing its dividend for the 50th consecutive year. In doing so, it has become one of only eight trusts to have established a half century of annual dividend growth.
In the middle of next month, the board of the £422 million stock market-listed fund will pay shareholders a final quarterly dividend for the 2022 financial year of 10.5 pence a share. This will bring the dividends paid for the year to 33 pence a share, an increase of 8.2 per cent on the previous financial year.
Some shareholders may be disappointed at the trust’s overall performance, especially when measured against the FTSE 100, the index it should be outperforming. Over the past year, three and five years, it has underperformed the index.
Yet the growing income should provide a comfort blanket to many investors who are invested in the UK- focused trust for the long term. Reassuringly, over the past ten years, the trust has beaten the index (117 per cent total return versus 80 per cent for the FTSE 100).
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