There is a date in the future when the good people in bank of Ireland will have moved on and be replaced by some kind of artificial intelligence. These will probably look like human beings, but will clearly lack the traits necessary to denote humanity. It will not be surprising then if they make decisions on a regular basis that on the face of it will exclude the concerns of ordinary people.
Their decisions will look like the one announced on Tuesday, by the Bank of Ireland to limit the interaction between human beings for tasks such as lodging or taking out sums of money over the counter. They will happily justify paperless billing, even though not everyone uses or has access email, either because they have no internet connectivity or they have not learned how to use it. The corporate message, completely devoid of irony will promote the new era of modern banking and in a very subtle way smooth over the concerns and practical difficulties which this will cause to some of its customers.
And there is little doubt that the decision by the Bank of Ireland to only process lodgements or withdrawals at their counter of over €700 euro. According to their blurb only 4% of us use their services in this way and so in an almost surreal democratic way they feel that it is time to phase it out completely.
Thankfully there was a change of mind on Wednesday. It is hoped that the new decision is recognition that a significant section of our population would be discommoded by this decision. In the main they are elderly and will be dealing with smaller sums of money. Many will live in isolated rural areas and because of the latent arrival of information technology will not be as familiar with using machines. Many will be individuals who when lodging their monies will need to talk to someone about other related account issues. In terms of people affected by social exclusion in social or economic terms, Irish Rural Link believes that in rural Ireland there is a hard core of 80, 000 families affected. Many will lack the access and capacity to do internet banking. Older people famous for hoarding cash in their homes have been consistently advised to lodge it in the banks, credit union or post office. For many this means lodging a small amount on a regular basis, while at the same time having the opportunity to be reassured by staff that their affairs are in order. The inconvenience caused by this new order will unfortunately give another message to the criminal world that older people are more likely to have more money in their homes than usual, thus adding to the insecurity highlighted in the Independent and other media about rural security.
The manner of the announcement is disturbing in that at the very least it exposes a huge disconnect between the banks and their customers, in particular customers whose wealth is small and are unlikely to add massive value to their accounts. The last few years has shaken people’s faith in the banking system. The belief that the system has little to offer the ordinary person or small business is strong and is only underlined by this decision.
Belatedly and after a huge outcry the bank has realised its mistake and at least had the bottle to admit it or at least change the brutal nature of its implementation. In future Bank of Ireland and other banks, who are likely to be planning similar tricks, could start by talking to people who are likely to affected. If as they say only 4% of the population uses the counter and this is in decline then why not show some patience and spend time in the education of people to uses their technology and feel comfortable about it. They could make sure that there will always be someone from the bank available to discuss their affairs when required. They could put resources into assisting people to learn how to use computers and learn the intricacies of internet banking. In Irish Rural Link we have shown that with the help of computer training resourced by the Department of Energy, Communications and natural resources, thousands of older people are adapting to the brave new world of computer use, whether it is skyping grand children in Australia or internet banking. The Bank of Ireland announcement demonstrates that the banks have learned nothing from recent times and that the more ordinary the account is the less it matters.
Seamus BolandCEO Irish Rural Link