Banking in Remote Communities

Our TV screens seem to be awash with property programmes and many of the people featured are pursuing a dream to move from the urban rat race to a more sedate lifestyle in the countryside. That’s all well and good but it can bring its own challenges, one of which is the logistics of doing your banking when the nearest bank branch may be many miles away.

This is certainly an issue that applies to those living in the Scottish Highlands, one of the most sparsely populated regions in Europe and a place where cold winters can occasionally result in roads being closed off. For previous generations, there would have been no alternative but to find a way to get to the nearest bank branch, or at least the nearest cash machine. However, advances in technology are making life easier and here are a few of the options that are making banking easier.

1. Internet Banking.

When Internet Banking was first introduced, penetration levels were higher in the Scandinavian countries than they were in countries such as the UK, France, or Germany. In part, no doubt, this was influenced by the geographical and climatic conditions present in the Scandinavian countries. With more people living in rural areas, and with harsh winters, people in countries such as Sweden and Finland were quick to appreciate the convenience of being able to do your banking from the comfort of the home.

Internet banking enables people to check their balance, or bank statement, but it also enables individuals to do a range of banking transactions. This can include transferring money between accounts, paying bills, or setting up standing orders. Undertaking such transactions can be a little daunting for those who have previously relied on a bank clerk but, after the first time, it quickly becomes embedded as a routine and easy way to bank.

The Internet can also be used to apply for an increased overdraft, or to apply for many types of banking services, such as a savings account, a loan, or a credit card. In most cases, the entire process of opening an account can be done without the need to physically visit the branch, although you may have to post supporting documentation to prove your identity.

2. Mobile Phone Banking.

Mobile phone banking works along the same lines as Internet banking, except that you use your mobile phone rather than a computer to access the relevant information. The great advantage of this, of course, is that everyone has a mobile phone and we tend to have it upon our person at all times. This means that it’s now possible to do your banking at any time and from anywhere.

Of course, mobile phone banking is still in its infancy and it will take some years before it can rival internet banking for popularity or richness of functionality. However, most banks are excited by the potential of this new channel and many have already launched mobile phone banking services that enables customers to undertake basic functions, such as checking their balance, getting a mini statement, or topping up their mobile phone.

In due course, as both banks and their customers become more comfortable with the mobile medium, is it likely that richer functionality will be added to make the service more comparable with its big Internet cousin. However, the small screen size inherent with mobile phones will mean that there will always be some limitations and mobile phone banking will be a service that complements Internet banking rather than replaces it.

3. Telephone Banking.

Long before Internet banking or mobile phone banking were invented, people were already conducting some of their banking activity via a remote channel, namely their land-line telephone. Telephone banking usage may have declined with the rise of Internet banking, but it is still a very valid option and offers similar functionality to that found via Internet banking. An added advantage is that you may have the opportunity to speak to a human being rather than needing to do everything for yourself.

4. Mobile Branches and bankers.

In 1946, Royal Bank of Scotland launched the world’s first commercial “mobile banking” service. “Mobile banking” is a term that is now associated primarily with mobile phone banking but back in the Forties it referred to vans that went around rural areas offering banking services to local communities. These mobile branches have had something of a resurgence in recent years and Royal Bank of Scotland’s website states that it now has thirteen vans in operation.

Mobile branches are an example of the bank going to the customer, and modern technology means that a wide range of transactions can be carried out by these mobile bankers. Another variant on this principle is where bank staff arrange to visit you at your home or place of work. This level of service is usually reserved for business banking clients, where a relationship manager travels with a laptop to assist valuable clients with their banking.

5. Branch banking.

Although it may be more difficult to get to a branch that is many miles away, there will still be occasions when individuals may wish to use this option. An example might be where a first time buyer wants to discuss the process of getting a mortgage to buy a house. Banks used to be open only during week days and ran quite rigid hours but there have been recent advancements that have seen branches opening at the weekend. This increased flexibility helps all bank customers but may be particularly useful for people who live in more far-flung areas.

With all the advances in technology and the way that banks have adapted them to deliver services, it’s probably easier now to bank remotely than it’s ever been. Such is the nature of technology advancements, however, that it’s likely that this is just the start and that more changes will happen to shape the way that we all do our banking.