Heads Up- Traditional Banks Are Going Away!

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You have probably noticed that there are fewer and fewer bank branches. In fact, between 2017 and 2021, over 4,400 bank branches shut down permanently. At the height of the pandemic, many more were temporarily closed or offered only limited services. At some branches, it was necessary to make a special appointment to access a safe deposit box or conduct some other transactions.

The four-year period between 2017 and 2021 saw an acceleration in the branch closure trend that started in 2008. Most experts predict that this trend will continue in the coming years and neighborhood bank branches could all but disappear by 2034. Interestingly, Florida was the state with the largest number of bank closures in the last six years by a wide margin. Florida, a fast-growing market, lost 529 banks in that period, compared to runner up Illinois, a no-growth market, which lost 395. In many smaller communities, there is no physical bank at all.

This situation has a disproportionate effect on seniors, the demographic group whose members are most likely to have been sticking with the familiar banking practices of the past. Those habits are going to be more and more difficult to maintain as branches close. Even common transactions like a withdrawal, deposit or transfer are going to become harder if you are looking for an open branch or a human bank teller. Many branches are going to become simply drive-through lanes with sophisticated cash machines.

No one thinks that banks are going to completely go away, but the services they offer to individuals are going to be mainly “mobile,” “online” or “electronic.” This means that seniors must acquire the digital skills needed to navigate this new system. If you are going to remain in control of your personal affairs, this will become mandatory.

Younger seniors are likely to be prepared for this process. Today’s 60 or 65-year-old was a young adult at the dawn of the digital age. They began to use digital devices at work and in their personal lives years ago. However, for many seniors, the switch to online or mobile banking has seemed intimidating or frightening. A 2019 consumer study found that seniors aged 70 and older were far less likely to use these new banking services. While traditional banks or at least drive-through operations remained open, this was not a huge problem. The pandemic offered a preview of banking in the future; there will be fewer and fewer in-person contacts and help from human beings will be hard to find. Telephone helplines are often frustrating, operated by people in foreign countries who do not speak clearly.

The survey cited above found that seniors avoided digital banking for several reasons. These barriers included banking safety and security concerns, physical difficulty using mobile devices, a preference for in-person contact, and a lack of access to the internet. Real as these concerns are, seniors who want to stay in personal control of their financial affairs must overcome them.

Here are some tips to help seniors who are ready to take the leap into online and mobile banking-

First, be sure you have the right equipment. If you are having difficulty using cell phone keyboards or voice commands, look at computer tablets or good old-fashioned computers and laptops. They are easier to see and much easier to type with. Some seniors find dealing with the small screens and touch keys in cell phones difficult.

Start with a simple online or mobile task. Just establishing an online account with your bank is a good place to start. If this seems intimidating, have a friend guide you through the process. After this account is established, use it to do simple tasks like checking bank account balances. Repeat this several times before moving on to something like making transfers or paying a bill online. You do not have to jump in right away doing complicated things like investing online. Build familiarity one step at a time.

Use the educational resources available to you. All major banks offer online help, often in the form of videos that clearly explain how to do common transactions online. They may also offer information about taxes, rebates, financial literacy tools and ways to report suspected fraud immediately.

Last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. This should be rare, but if there is a problem that you just cannot solve, there is someone in a local branch who can help. Nowadays, it might require making an appointment in that branch, but it may be worth the trouble while branches are still open. Mastering online banking is about learning a new skill, something seniors should continue to do throughout life. Remember that everyone had to learn how to bank online at some point.

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