AIB’s cashless plan didn’t take its customers into account


If there’s a fine line between boldness and idiocy, AIB has certainly walked it with its plan to remove cash from so many of its rural branches. It’s difficult to do a hasty reverse with dignity, especially after falling flat on your face. It’s also been a few years since Joseph Stiglitz said, “We have banks that are not only too big to fail, but too big to be held accountable.”

It still seems remarkable that the AIB, in which the state holds a large stake and which only exists thanks to the help of taxpayers, might feel that it would be unaccountable to anyone should it inconvenience so many of its clients by making a withdraws such key service.

It has been claimed that gratitude is the rarest of human virtues in every walk of life, but the lack of it in some of our leading financial institutions borders on the staggering. Without the late intervention of Taoiseach Micheál Martin, there is every reason to believe that the move would have happened.

It’s worth noting that banks are there to serve their customers, not themselves. Money is meant to be their servant, not the other way around. When profits are pushed so far that the customer is no longer a priority, there will always be a problem. Mr Martin reminded the bank before its about-face: “I think the banks are part of society; they also have contractual obligations.”

AIB had tried to justify its decision with technological priorities. She pointed to a dramatic increase in the use of digital banking services and a drop in branch visits.

Its statement cited 2.9 million daily digital interactions versus 35,000 store visits from customers. There has also been a 36 percent drop in cash withdrawals from ATMs over the past five years.

However, this period encompassed the pandemic when social and commercial in-person interaction almost came to a standstill. It seemed particularly disdainful to have attempted the move before the comprehensive government review of retail banking is complete later this year.

The entire banking business model is being put to the test. Performing such a maneuver while this was on the move looks like overplaying your hand.

It is surprising that the government reacted so late, having been informed four days before the announcement. If banks play a key role in keeping money flowing through the economy and ensuring everyone has adequate access to services, the state has a duty to make sure they do their job.

From the crash to how tracker mortgages were handled, banks have shown they can still surprise us.

But AIB took this to a new level by shooting themselves in the foot and stabbing themselves in the back at the same time. AIB’s cashless plan didn’t take its customers into account

Fry Electronics Team

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