It’s a trend that started before the pandemic. Today nobody is surprised anymore when stories emerge about the latest bank branch closures. Just last month HSBC announced it is closing 114 banks next year. According to Which, since January 2015 over 5,300 branches of banks or building societies have closed in the United Kingdom. Equating to about 54 closing each month.
The hardest hit areas include Scotland which has seen over half of its banks close. More importantly there are now 10 parliamentary constituencies with no branches at all, and many more which are left with just one branch. In Scotland this has led MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee to raise concerns that not enough support is being offered to support individuals who needed those branches.
An option left to customers is to use the post office network. Another initiative is the Link Financial Inclusion Programme which focuses on improving free access to cash in the most deprived areas of the UK.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Interestingly, one StartUp that has come up with a solution is actually from Scotland. We reached out to Duncan Cockburn, Founder and CEO at OneBanx to find out more.
Fresh from meeting 37 MPs at a Westminster Drop-In event, Duncan has big ambitions for OneBanx and believes that his StartUp can offer a compelling solution to the problem of #AccessToCash.
“Cash is sometimes a necessity. Whether its for individuals or for small businesses like florists, hairdressers, pubs, or a whole array of others” Duncan explained. “There are communities that are still cash dependant. And there is a lot of interest in OneBanx from small businesses in some of these communities. But OneBanx is not a cash proposition, it is a beyond cash proposition.”
A huge advocate of Open Banking, Duncan shared more about the way that the local post office was currently filling the role of a bank in many places. How this was not necessarily the answer. How technology can play a bigger role in the answer.
In the case of the specially created ‘Post Office BankHUB’, deployment has been hampered due to difficulties in finding suitable premises and making the ‘hubs’ fully accessible. The invention is an answer to the bank closures, but the solution has also had to contend with gaining planning permission for some locations.
Just one of the things that Duncan believes makes OneBanx different. They can deploy within a matter of a few months, or less, and have very little in the way of overheads apart from rent and salaries of the team or even individual. Small ‘hubs’ are created that can operate from within a shop or an existing business premises. Rather than have a bank custom built as the Post Office BankHUB is seeking to carry out.
Duncan highlighted how it was not necessarily the fact that banks are closing branches across the UK that made him look for a solution. It was the way that Open Banking allowed technology to play a bigger role in the solution that he saw. He explained how ‘identity’ was key in how a customer interacts with OneBanx.
Distributed identity allows third party companies like OneBanx to manage the relationship with the customer. “It doesn’t matter who you bank with,” Duncan explained. “You are interacting with our technology. We can add all your bank accounts onto one single platform. You don’t need to login or logout of your different bank accounts. You just log in to OneBanx and you’ve got all your bank’s functionalities there.”
In December 2021 major banks in the UK agreed to join forces to help people and businesses to be able to access banking services. The collaboration is called the Access to Cash Action Group.
Basically, the ATM network Link will be able to independently assess what type of banking solution is needed when closures hit unsustainable levels in any given region. They determine the customer need and subsequently, Newco, a joint venture which comprises the 10 largest retail banks, will roll out a service to meet the community need. And OneBanx operating model makes it the quickest, most customer focused, and most cost-effective solution to deploy in those circumstances, Duncan believes.
Solving the challenge for the ‘underbanked’
Duncan shared how up to 3000 sites were going to need a banking solution like OneBanx over the next five years. Driven by demand from communities and customers.
“This is why we are currently crowdfunding. To raise awareness amongst people,” Duncan elaborated. “If they are ‘underbanked’ in their area we can reach out to Link who will carry out an assessment. If it meets their criteria, a solution will be deployed. A solution that could be OneBanx.”
“When people want to do their banking in person, hopefully the first thing they will think of is OneBanx.” Reverting to the in-person customer service levels and community approach OneBanx offers, Duncan described in detail how a person’s bank accounts can be aggregated through the OneBanx app. All bank accounts. Similarly, to how other ‘SuperApps’ that are available today work. But he highlighted how it’s the ‘in-person’ experience that makes OneBanx different.
Another concern that the closure of banks means for small businesses and customers is the thought of having to change their banking provider. Change it to the last bank in town if that is the case. Duncan explained how with OneBanx you wouldn’t have to worry about changing your banking provider. You just interact with OneBanx in person and through the app in the future. Meaning that thousands of people will be able to stay with their main banking provider as well as access in-person services.
Safety of the customer
There has only been a handful of Post Office BankHUBs or OneBanx solutions deployed so far. In the meantime, there are post offices across the country managing more cash than they did before. Because the banks have closed in their local areas. Post offices are not always able to help in specific cases where customers need more support.
Duncan explained how with OneBanx a customer is onboarded as an individual rather than the customer of a specific bank. Normal KYC and other checks are undertaken when interacting with OneBanx. Transaction monitoring and screening form part of the way OneBanx operates. Offering something that post offices are not able to offer.
There are also limits in place within OneBanx system. Meaning that the system will ensure that transactions don’t exceed normal parameters without a reaction.
The future of shared banking
Going forward there is no doubt that a solution that OneBanx is offering will be necessary. The major banks in the UK have already accepted this too.
Duncan discussed the case of the Shetland Islands. Using the remote islands as an example, Duncan shared how OneBanx has to co-operate with companies involved in cash transit. Adding that there are certainly more challenges for banks in a remote location. Working with cash transportation companies efficiently. Reusing cash from ATM Cash and Deposit Machines where possible. Lots of further innovative solutions are being looked at by the team at OneBanx, to continue to help the banks help their customers, Duncan summarized.
Ultimately, it’s not just about the safety of the customer. It’s also about the convenience of the customer. If the closures of banks around the country are causing customers to worry, it’s good to know that solutions are both available and being deployed.
Duncan knows that it will take time to win the trust and confidence of customers who are not familiar with OneBanx today. His perseverance in highlighting a solution to the continued closure of banks is relevant and persuasive.
We will be watching the development of OneBanx closely at DisruptionBanking. The firm is offering a solution to a problem that affects a certain segment of society, something that all good StartUps have to offer when being created. But, differently to others, OneBanx is using a hybrid technology and in-person answer to solve this problem. Less Revolut, more MetroBank without the open all hours and large offices. But with the potential to be an UBER in its own right.
Most importantly, future customers of OneBanx will be interacting with a person who will be supporting them in learning how to interact with a digital platform. Many people who were never properly exposed to internet banking will have somebody to help them. Someone to give the banking experience that personal touch they may need. Supporting the community. How banking was supposed to be.
Author: Andy Samu
Find out more about OneBanx Crowdfunding initiative: