Are you closing your bank branch? One in five citizens goes to the post office counter

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It is a theme of overall depopulation of small municipalities that is associated with banking desertification. It is intertwined with local economies, with the employment of credit and with choices to make investments. Research by Uilca, the bankers’ Uil, investigated citizens’ approach to the counter through 2,870 interviews of a demographic survey carried out through the Lab 21.01 research institute in 20 Italian cities. The campaign “Branch closures” was born from this. No, thanks” which toured Italy with a final stop at the Cnel. From the interviews it emerges that «if their bank branch closed, 66.8% of those interviewed would go to a physical office. 48.5% “would go to another bank branch”, 18.3% “to a post office” and 25.4% “would use the services of the online bank””. After all, today 7 out of 10 citizens choose only the bank as their money “manager”, 17.9% choose both the bank and the post office while 8.7% choose only the post office. 13.8% of people even declare that they “preferred to leave their municipality due to the absence of bank branches or other essential services”. The absence of branches also affects investments: for 7 out of 10 people, in fact, the bank represents a useful place to get support and assistance on savings, investments and loans. Of the more than half respondents, 52% go to the bank once a month, 21% once every 6 months, 13.8% once a year and 9.8% never. These are some of the numbers that emerged in the data presentation made by Roberto Baldassari, professor of Integrated Communication Methods and Tools at the Roma Tre University and general director of Lab 21.01. More numbers to understand.

Closures and the impact on employment

According to what Uilca explains, in the period from 2018 to 2022 the number of municipalities served by banks decreased by 10.9%, going from 5,368 municipalities in 2018 to 4,785 in 2022. In 2022, out of 7,901 Italian municipalities, more than 3 thousand equal to 39% do not offer access to the banking service. An analysis carried out by the Uilca Orietta Guerra Study Center showed a contraction in bank branches of 17.4% (minus 4,423 branches), going from 25,409 in 2018 to 20,986 in 2022. In the same period the banking sector lost 14,020 jobs , equal to a 5% drop in employment. From 2018 to 2022, in central Italy there were 1,040 fewer branches, equal to a drop of 19.4% (from 5,367 to 4,327). Almost ninety municipalities (from 764 to 676) remained without bank branches (11.5%).

The growth of digital channels

According to what emerges from the latest Abi Lab annual report, «the use of digital channels for banking operations increases in 2022: customers active on Mobile Banking grow by 13.1% while those who operate via Internet Banking from the Web Portal of 3 ,3%. Driving the trend are customers who access Mobile Banking from smartphones with the app (application), which have almost doubled in the last 5 years (between 2018 and 2022). The volume of transactions on Mobile Banking also grew by 25%: among these, bank transfers and account transfers +31.8%”. The banking offering available on digital channels is constantly evolving: new services join existing ones to meet the needs of an increasingly technological customer. All banks offer services via smartphone apps and web portals, around 50% also offer apps on tablets and 21% on wearable devices. On average, each bank offers 3 apps, according to Abi Lab data.

The sociodemographic and economic change of the country

Addressing issues with such a broad social value cannot ignore the recognition that in Italy there has been a «sociodemographic and economic change. There is growth in the internal areas where there is depopulation” but “where there is no bank or post office, in 9 out of 10 cases there is also a lack of a pharmacy, the presence of a railway station is rare, 3 municipalities out of 5 do not have a tobacconist” so the issue is “aggregate demand. We must think to find solutions that relate above all to public policies and create conditions to attract investments” because “in Italy there is a lack of demand for investment goods”, states the deputy general director of the ABI, Gianfranco Torriero. Therefore, adds Torriero, «the relevance of the banking sector in Italy is evident. Only with a solid and strong banking sector that is able to contribute to the financing of investments are we able to make a contribution to Italy, not just the large urban centers.” Even small countries, according to Torriero «must contribute, starting from the South, to the growth of our economy. We cannot leave anyone behind, neither as a country nor as citizens.” More generally, Torriero also recalls that «compared to 2008, when the reduction of bank branches began not only in Italy, but throughout Europe, 3.8 billion non-cash payments were made. Today the latest data for 2022 indicates just under 12 billion transactions. There has been an epochal change in the ways of operating, also determined by changes in use, customers and technology”. The answer, in addition to sociodemographic change, also comes from other factors, such as «the strong push from regulation, which after the great financial crisis gave strong pressure from the point of making the sector more efficient» and «technology and the change of use of the bank”.

Brunetta launches a discussion table at the CNEL

At the opening of the proceedings, the president of the CNEL, Renato Brunetta, recalled the function of the CNEL as “the house of intermediate bodies where we discuss freely”. Digitalisation appears to be «an inevitable process that changes the way we do banking. With an impact on human capital and services to citizens: in the first case 14 thousand redundancies, in the second it is more difficult to calculate the impact, but it is undoubtedly there. Doing everything remotely is not the same. We have those who at this moment must act for economic reasons and those who must pay the price. Instead of accepting a banal schematism, we need to think of other paths where there are no winners and losers, but everyone wins. I believe it is possible, as long as civil society actors play together.” Thinking about alternative models to closures, Brunetta cites «what Poste Italiane is doing with the Polis project which represents the opening of 7 thousand centers in peripheral areas, a link between urbanized central places and suburbs with lower population density. The project plans to open places with humans inside, not ATMs, where there are all the connections to public administration services. Why does the Post Office do this? Because on the one hand it has to close branches, but on the other it opens services. I believe that this is a model to also consider for the banking sector. Poste also carries out banking activities, profiting from it and carries out many overlapping functions and to carry out the project it takes almost a billion from the Pnrr”. The inspiration from the model offered by Poste Italiane and the dialogue between all social actors could translate into a discussion table that Brunetta undertakes to host at the Cnel.

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