Photo by Rachel Blake
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Roman Road to be left with no high street banks from September 2021

The Nationwide branch is set to close on 19 August, with the Barclays following suit on 15 September, leaving many residents with no option but to bank online.

With the closure of the Roman Road branch of Nationwide bank 565, and one month later the Barclays bank at 611, this will leave the area with two town centres and no banks.

‘The queue is always very long. How did they decide that they don’t need this branch (of Nationwide)?’ asks Justyna Stawicka, visiting the bank to pay in a cheque, ‘which I can’t do online.’

‘I don’t like the idea of bank branches disappearing. We need a thriving high street and for this, we need all sorts of things. Roman Road has become a really good high street, where you can live your life locally: restaurants, shops, shoe repairs, dry cleaners, DIY shops and banks, you need them all. Services disappearing is not a step in the right direction.’ she continues.

While many banking services have gone online, Nationwide does not offer a digital service to pay cheques online, requiring customers to send them via post – or visit in branch. Barclays allows customers to cash cheques using their mobile banking app. For customers using any bank, cash still has to be taken to a cashier to be paid in, an essential service for the many market stalls that continue to operate on a cash-only basis. 

The planned closures seems another blow for the high street and the market that made it famous. Altaf Hussain, who runs a clothing stall just meters from Barclays Bow branch, explains how it increases footfall past his stall. The closure of the branch is one less reason to visit the high street. 

Rather than head down The Roman to cash in a cheque or ask for advice on a pensions scheme, Hussain’s would-be customers might instead be logging in online, without the need to step foot out of their front door. 

Hussain fears that many residents will not be able to make the transition to online banking. ‘So few people are online round here that I’ve had to print off physical copies of the market survey to help people fill it in,’ he says, describing his role as a market representative for the council. 

The 2019 Consumer Digital Index from Lloyds Bank found that 22 per cent of people do not have the digital skills needed for everyday life in the UK.

After receiving a letter announcing the planned closure from Nationwide, Councillor Rachel Blake decided to set up a petition to save the branch, ‘because I know what it means to Roman Road. You can just see that there’s always a queue out there.’ 

For Councillor Blake, her main concern is how elderly residents will access financial services; ‘Bow East, the area around Roman Road Market, has the highest proportion of older people – and Tower Hamlets has the highest levels of pensioner poverty in the country. So detaching the older population from high street banking, I think, is a real concern.’

Figures released by Nationwide show that 25 per cent of the Nationwide members registered with the Roman Road branch are only using this branch. That’s a fair few customers who will need to take the bus, and potentially half a day off work, to travel to Aldgate, Stratford or Hackney. 

‘It was a difficult decision,’ a Nationwide spokesman told the East London Advertiser, ‘But we’ve looked at the number of people using the branch.’

‘We must consider whether it’s in the interest of our wider membership to keep a branch open that requires significant investment. This is the case with Bow, where we have six branches within a three-mile radius.’ 

Regular users of Barclays Bow bank at 611 Roman Road have received correspondence that the bank will close at noon on Wednesday 15 September. Barclays say that 87 per cent of their Bow branch customers also use other ways to do their banking such as online and by telephone. However this won’t help the many street market vendors that use this bank to deposit their cash earnings every market day. 

The Barclays bank at 92 Bow Road closed in June 2019, and currently sits vacant and in disrepair. In addition to the closure of NatWest at 152 Roman Road in 2017, this will leave four empty former banks in our patch that will likely stay vacant for several years given that banks normally take out long leases. 

It begs the question, where will Roman Road residents go to access banking services with not a single bank along the high street?

If you found this interesting, you might like our piece on the cladding scandal: trapped in a ‘matchbox’ in Bow East.

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