For 70 years old, wheelchair bound Tim, the taxi ride to the bank costs 16GBP. So what?

This is the first in a series of “So what?” stories which have either inspired my research this year or which I discovered through my research.

For the full report go here.

Consider Tim. He is in his 70s and lives in retirement accommodation with his wife. He is wheelchair bound and he does not like to go out without his wife.

I don’t know Tim personally but I know of him from two Financial Conduct Authority reports, one published in 2014 [1] and one in 2016 [2]. His story should have not been news to me however I came across it only in 2018 and it touched me to the point that I started a one-year research project around his story.

[Tim] “can use the local Post Office for small financial transactions, although it doesn’t deal with everything he needs and is only open one morning a week. The nearest bank is about 20 miles away and Tim struggles to use the local bus, because it only has space for one wheelchair and there are currently only two buses a day. When Tim and his wife do go to town they need to get a taxi, which is costly.”[2, p. 22]

“We can’t drive to get to the nearest branch, so we have to take the bus, for about an hour. But there’s a lady in the village before ours who gets the bus too and she is in a wheelchair, so she takes up the disabled space. Then we have to get a taxi which is £16 each way.”[1, pp. 28, 46]

I work in financial services for many years and for the past ten years I was literally plugged to the Fintech world, seeing many banks and start-ups promising disruption, banking without needing a bank, personalisation, seamless authentication, you name it. I have never heard anybody talking about Tim or people like him. Was there anything for him in the frenzied innovation world I was part of? I could not think of anything. I was not only sheltered from witnessing an experience similar to his, but on the contrary I was overwhelmed by the number of apps, payment methods and currencies available to me.

As I was thinking of Tim, I started noticing the news. “1,700 machines started charging for withdrawals” in the first three months of 2019. [3] We are told by The Times that the Derbyshire Dales District experienced the largest number of bank branch closures since 2015 than anywhere else in the UK. [4] “High street banks have collectively closed 990 branches in the most deprived areas of the country since 2010, compared with 230 in the richest local authorities” [5] “So it’s not clear where this will end” Simon Gompertz commented on BBC.

I was puzzled. Are we kidding ourselves? Finance is considered one of the thirteen national critical infrastructure systems in the UK. Why is it so widely accepted that we cannot possibly know or understand how an infrastructure of access to essential services can be managed?

This is how I started my research this year, with the intention to show that we can find Tim and others like him. We can move from this forever shifting, anecdotal reporting on access infrastructure to quantitative measurements which can let us compare areas and also locally solve the problem of access. Our research proposes a method for measuring the distance from the centre of a small statistical area to the first physical point of access to banking (ATM, post office, branch). When this overlaps with reduced availability of fixed and mobile broadband, we call that area a “void”.

So what?

This means that we can find Tim.

In fact, we identified that in March 2019, 275 thousand people in the UK lived at a distance bigger than 5km from ANY physical point of access (ATM, post office, branch). Out of these, 67 thousand are over 65 years old. Out of this population, 128 thousand people live in Scotland and, 29 thousands of them are over 65 years old.

Compared to the total UK population these are surely small numbers. However, because we know precisely the areas where these people live, their lack of access can be addressed through local solutions.

The next “So what?” story will be about “mobile branches” and “outreach post offices”.

[1] B. Rowe, J. Holland, A. Hann, and T. Brown, ‘Vulnerability exposed: The consumer experience of vulnerability in financial services’, ESROFinancial Conduct Auth., p. 48, Dec. 2014.

[2] ‘Occasional Paper №17: Access to Financial Services in the UK’, FCA, 24-May-2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.fca.org.uk/publications/occasional-papers/occasional-paper-no-17-access-financial-services-uk. [Accessed: 02-May-2019].

[3] BBC, ‘Free ATMs “vanishing at alarming rate”’, 01-May-2019.

[4] T. C. and K. Bryan, ‘Abandoned: how the poor lost their bank branches but the rich kept theirs’, 05-Oct-2019.

[5] M. Brignall, ‘Banks accused of abandoning England’s poorest communities’, The Guardian, 21-Jul-2019.

Banking Systems Architect. Curious. Antifragile.

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