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A few words from our volunteer Research Intern: Jude Atkinson

Prior to working with OPAAL and discussions with grandparents, I never truly understood the extent of the impacts of digital banking. I knew that it was part of the reason why my local bank branch was closing and being replaced by yet another restaurant. I also knew that it meant that I could see in real time, and on the go, my student loan disappearing at an alarming rate. However, in my mind that was pretty much it. Digital banking on the whole seemed just to be part of the natural evolution of technology, something which, as it had apparently been so seamlessly integrated within the makeup of everyday life, must be both universally accepted and universally acclaimed. However, I now know this to not be the case. Now I know that the shift to digital banking has meant that many older people are now feeling deserted as they’re now struggling to manage their finances and no longer have as many interpersonal interactions or relationships. It is the latter point especially which strikes home as, through reading stories such as David’s and talking with elderly loved ones, it becomes apparent how important warm in-person customer service is to so many. 
Like for David, even the journey to the local bank branch can provide an opportunity to meet people, get some fresh air and invest in the area’s local services. Such things are perhaps not as quantifiable as efficiency, costs and profit; however, they still must be acknowledged by policy makers, banks and organisations when decisions are made regarding bank branch closures and digital banking initiatives. Understanding the reasons for why so many older people are uncomfortable with digital banking has also been eye-opening. In particular the lack of confidence so many people have in either technology or in their own technological skillset. This is particularly something which one of my grandparents struggles with and is something which has prevented them from doing other tasks online such as online shopping and paying for tickets, with them pointing to scams and fear of making a mistake as reasoning for this. Some may see this as slightly irrational – I perhaps have been guilty of this as well – however, their fears largely warrant merit. 
Constantly evolving technology and the lack of tech support has led to many older people being left behind and feeling that they’re unable to adapt to this constant change. This has then meant that they have been unable or unwilling to properly embrace digital banking leading to them being less able to manage their hard-earned money. The decline in access to cash access has also contributed to the lack of control some older people now have over their finances. This has then accumulated to many older people feeling deserted and discriminated against, with every step forward for digital banking leading to a further step back for much of the older generations. I, OPAAL and many others now feel that these issues must be finally addressed. Banking hubs, tech upskilling and dedicated community spaces are all solutions which must be pursued. The feelings of discrimination and desertion felt by too many of our elderly loved ones must also be better recognised. These issues are not exclusive to digital banking either – many of them apply to a number of everyday tasks faced. And with this number getting bigger and bigger, I now know that urgency is needed.
Read Jude’s impressive article on local bank branch closures.
Check out our free resources to help anyone struggling with a local bank closure.

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