Sant tells Brussels to safeguard consumer banking as COVID-19 shutters more branches

As banks move to digital, Alfred Sant questions the EU’s commitment in protecting essential banking services

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Labour MEP Alfred Sant has proposed a system of conditionality for the granting of state aid, so that any bank receiving financial assistance be obliged to keep offering their regular consumer banking services.

In a parliamentary question on the decrease in consumer banking services, such as a decline in bank branches and the closing of ATMs, Sant warned that the COVID-19 pandemic could be used to justify a permanent reduction in these services.

In response, Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission vice-president, said Brussels was monitoring the regular decrease in the number of bank branches and automated teller machines, and will be observing how retail banking services are evolving throughout the EU.

“The Commission admitted that the reduction in banking services may have an impact on access to basic banking services among EU citizens, especially among those unfamiliar with digital banking. Transformations within the sector, such as the acceleration of digital payments at the expense of cash, may have an impact on financial inclusion,” Sant said.

A recent study by consulting firm Kearney projected that one in four bank branches across Europe will close down over the next three years, made worse by shifting customer habits due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the already accelerating trend in adopting digital banking tools.

Many bank branches in Malta temporarily closed their doors due to COVID-19 worries, but prior to this HSBC shut down eight branches across Malta to shift their focus towards online retail banking services.

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