Residents in Bowmore and Tarbert have hit out at the Bank of Scotland (BOS) over a decision to permanently close branches.
After months of rumours, BOS told both communities yesterday that the branches in both communities would close next year.
Tarbert will close on April 29, while Bowmore will close on May 8.
Furious residents say banks are needed more than ever, especially in Bowmore on Islay and in Tarbert, Loch Fyne, where people have little choice.
Tarbert and Bowmore branches to close
They say the closures will affect the elderly and vulnerable most, and impact those who have cash deposits to make.
They fear that despite the best efforts of Post Office staff – where some banking services will now be offered – it will never meet customer demand.
Lynn Wilson, who runs the Lynn Label cafe in Bowmore, said her husband – who is a farmer and 76 – will never cope.
“He likes to put his government cheques from farming into the bank,” she explained.
“He doesn’t have a computer and it is very difficult for him to get his head around the technology.
“There are lots of people on the island who are now going to be struggling to do their banking.
“We lost the bank manager years ago and that was a blow. But now, to lose the bank altogether, I really don’t know what we are going to do.
‘It will be a scammer’s dream’
“Farmers, like my husband, need a trusted and familiar face in the bank for any problems.
“Everyone knows that farmers live in a constant overdraft and in the red. When you have a local branch – they understand this and give you the short-term flexibility that you need.
“It will be a scammer’s dream that we are all having to do everything online.”
Lynn, who says she doesn’t want to transfer to another bank, also makes cash deposits for her own cafe business.
She continued: “I work from early morning until 5 or 6pm at night. I then use the secure deposit box at the bank.
“What am I going to do now? It is a huge blow for Islay and is going to cause problems for so many people.”
Shock at closures
Former postmaster, Councillor Alastair Redman, said he was “shocked” by the news.
He said: “We need banks. We can’t become a cashless society.
“I am completely against it, cash gives you freedom. Cash benefits small businesses.
“When I was in Portnahaven Post Office as the postmaster, everyone paid in cash in the shop. That was back in 2017.
“85% of payments were in cash. Nowadays it is the other way around.
“People don’t trust electronic payments.”
‘Another backwards step’
Chef and business owner Gillian Henderson from Tarbert said the closure of the bank would be “another backwards step”.
She said: “What about people without cars as public transport is sporadic? Or people without computers.
“I have tried to use the branch as often as possible and although I have online banking I prefer to use the branch for larger transactions.
“The internet and power go down quite often here, so what will people do.”
She added: “Will they keep enough cash in the ATM? It already runs out regularly at big events like the Scottish Series.”
Gillian said that dealing with the financial affairs of her own mum’s death would have been difficult without the help of a face-to-face appointment in the branch.
Banks are closing by stealth
Whisky West Coast owner James Hamilton, based on Tarbert’s seafront Habour Street, said the bank had been closed by stealth.
“The bank is only open a few hours a week for three days a week. People get used to not using the bank – and customers are driven online,” he said.
“Most of my banking is now done online, and the good thing in Tarbert is that the post office access is good.”
Turning to the thought of an empty building in the town, he said: “I really just hope that someone buys the building and does something with it.
“We need the lights on in shops to make the village more appealing.”
Heather Bellshaw of the Tarbert community food bank, The Pantry, said: “We feel less and less connected to the outside world. A lot of our people are devastated, as it is one less social interaction.
“It will affect everyone in the community, but more so the elderly who have limited access to online banking.
“There is also the social aspect of connecting with other people while physically going to the bank.
“This will read to further isolation within an already disadvantaged area.”
Transactions have fallen by more than 60%
A Bank of Scotland spokesperson said: “As many customers now choose to bank online or through their mobile app, visits to our Bowmore and Tarbert (Argyll) branches have fallen over recent years.
“The local Post Office in each town offers everyday banking, with cash also available at close by free-to-use ATMs, alongside other ways to bank such as online, phone and mobile banking services.”
They added that transactions in Tarbert had fallen 61% in five years, and in Bowmore there was a downturn of 63%.
It was confirmed that a community banker would visit Bowmore following the closure to help customers for as long as required.