I am NOT in love with Robots BUT....

Posted on: 03/09/2017

In an ideal world - one I have never even glimpsed - ATMs would still have the role their inventor envisaged for them.

Legend has it that my fellow Scot, John Shepherd- Barron, had his own Eureka moment whilst ruminating in his bath. In a dazzling flash of inspiration, the thought came to him that he would invent a machine which would dispense cash when bank branches were closed.

Of course, it never occurred to John, way back then in the Swinging Sixties, that bank branches would ever disappear. In those days, British banks themselves were seen in the same light as the rock on which Edinburgh Castle rests; around for ever; unchanging; immovable. As for bank branches, every town of any note had several and even villages often had at least one or two.

Times have changed. Where once there were nearly 20,000 bank branches in the UK, there are now around 8000, with some forecasting that number will fall to 4000 or less by 2020.

When I was in my teens, I didn't have a lot of time for ATMs. Whenever a branch was open, I preferred to get my cash from the human being at the counter, rather than interacting with the hardware in the window or wall.

Call me old-fashioned, if you will, but to this day, I still opt for human contact, wherever possible.

Self-checkout machines are marvelously clever, but I prefer to speak to a member of staff, rather than be issued with instructions by a synthesized voice.

Similarly, self-checkin equipment at airports is wonderfully designed but, to me, is a long way second best to interacting with a member of airline staff.

I do not object to other customers thinking differently and opting to use the clever machines but I DO object where there is no choice. Any retailer or airline that takes choice away from me will lose my business, where there is any viable alternative. 

And YES. I AM prepared to pay more, if that is what it takes to receive service with a human touch.

ATMs, however, are in a different position in the marketplace. Soon, at least in some countries, there will be almost no bank branches and certainly no national networks of bank premises available to be visited. 

In this new world, brave or otherwise, ATMs will become the only financial services touchpoint for communities around our small island. Groups of SmartATMs - what I have coined (forgive the pun) Community Financial Services Hubs - will deliver all the services that bank branches provide currently and, probably, a lot more besides.

Please understand. This is NOT my preferred outcome. I would rather human beings were delivering all the financial services I need, face-to-face.

However, if we cannot have bank branches anymore, I - and millions like me - want SOMETHING locally, serving local communities. Financial Services Hubs are, it appears, the only viable answer.

I will never fall in love with machines, however smart these Robots become. However, I will remain in love with choice - and I choose to have a vibrant and economically viable local community, not simply well-designed  Banking Apps on my phone.

Tapping an App is no substitute for walking the walk of a neighborhood which buzzes with vitality, a melting pot of living and breathing humanity, adding value to each others lives, in every way, every day. 

If that is what YOU want, speak up today.

Tomorrow, the choice may not be yours to make.

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