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Closed branches and vanishing cash machines show how banks see us.

Byline: JUDITH PHILLIPS Twitter: @weeklynewsjude

IN this day and age when we're all so dependent on those slim slivers of plastic known as credit and debit cards, a tourist town without a working cash dispenser is like an oasis without water.

One can only imagine the frustration of visitors and locals alike last week when, with the intention spending money in Conwy's eclectic selection of niche shops and cafes, they were unable to find a cash machine with any cash.

The historic walled town, which attracts tourists from all over the world because of its magnificent castle built by Edward I, its well preserved medieval walls, and buildings like Plas Mawr and Aberconwy House, relies almost entirely on tourism for its economic prosperity.

Most days in the late Spring and early Summer its narrow streets are thronged with visitors, many of whom are tempted to buy souvenirs of their visit or to pop into one of its excellent cafes and restaurants for a snack or a meal. But without ready cash they have to go elsewhere, which for traders seeing potential sales lost must be upsetting to say the least.

While most shops accept credit cards, smaller businesses in a town like Conwy often don't because of the cost of installing them and the charges they will incur, so customers with ready cash in their pockets are vital to their success or failure.

Conwy lost its only remaining bank with a cash machine in February when HSBC closed its branch in the town. The Spar store in the High Street has a cash machine, which last week ran out of money because a recently installed 24-hour cash dispenser in Lancaster Square broke down.

By the time of writing, I'm hopeful this has now been repaired, but it out of action for at least eight days, causing a cash flow crisis in the town, leading the chairman of Conwy Chamber of Trade, Toby Tunstall, to comment: "The fact that people can't spend their cash when they come is ridiculous, it's a joke and needs to be sorted out."

I suspect it's a joke that his fellow traders and townsfolk won't find very funny, and having recently returned from the USA where ATM's are readily available in even the smallest and off the beaten track communities I find it incomprehensible.

North Wales's plethora of small towns and villages, some quite isolated, seem a less than attractive option for the big banks and cash machine companies who are apparently only interested in providing dispensers in the larger conurbations. On top of that, banks in our smaller towns are closing at an alarming rate leaving people with long journeys to the nearest large town to take care of their banking requirements. A few days ago Santander announced its intention to close branches in Llanrwst, Pwllheli, Abergele, Ruthin and Gresford provoking a public outcry.

Not everyone in a small community has a car, or internet access to enable them to do online banking so these closures will cause great inconvenience to many.

The big banks make enormous profits, and are able to pay staff bonuses which seem obscene to those scraping a living on the minimum wage, yet customer service seems to be at the bottom their list of priorities.

In its defence Santander says the branches which are to close are agencies run within other businesses and it's consolidating its retail banking services within its main branches. It says the agencies only provided limited banking services under licence and a recent review identified financial challenges in maintaining this third party network.

From which, I deduce the bank willing to continue to pay huge sums out in bonuses to its high flyers but has little regard for the needs of its grassroots customers.

Not everyone in a small community has a car or internet access so these closures will cause great inconvenience to many.
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 9, 2014
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