Post Office’s current account could boost rural areas

The Post Office in Wells-Next-the-Sea. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Post Office in Wells-Next-the-Sea. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Fresh hopes were given to the future of rural communities yesterday as the Post Office announced plans to make local banking easier by offering current accounts to customers.

The launch of the new bank account could take on traditional high street financial firms, injecting competition in to the market, as well as giving people living in towns and villages better access to their money.

Promising 'simplicity, transparency and good value for money' the accounts will initially be made available in a small number of the 11,500 branches during spring, before widening out across the country next year.

The Post Office have not yet said which branches they will be rolling the accounts in to but many hope this region's branches will be first to experience them.

Norman Lamb, MP for north Norfolk and former minister for postal affairs, said the introduction of the current account is 'incredibly valuable', and described the Post Office as a 'well-trusted brand'.

He said: 'I want Norfolk to lead the way in this, providing new services to people in rural areas.

'We've seen a real loss of services of the last couple of decades, and here we are seeing a new service coming in to our Post Office.

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'It's incredibly positive news.'

It is estimated that 99.7pc of the population live within three miles of a post office, meaning a return of a daily activity like banking could mean market towns and rural areas thrive again.

Rural group Action Market Towns welcomed the proposal. Head of communications Jamie Veitch said: 'We have long been a supporter of the campaign for community banking, since around 1,000 communities have already lost all of their bank branches.

'The new current account will provide a vital and accessible service to many towns and villages - and give people another reason to use their local high street - benefiting other local shops too.'

Tracy Elwin, from Hunstanton, said she wants simplicity and ease whilst banking because of time taken up as a mother.

She said: 'I'm a stay at home mum who is not earning, so I don't want to be sold a credit card, a loan, or anything else.

'My local bank branch doesn't open until 9.30am and is closed on Saturday, so it's not always as convenient as I need it to be.'

Last month staff at the London Road North post office in Lowestoft, Castle Mall in Norwich and Thetford were on strike at the prospect of jobs, pay and closures, as well as closures of branches in villages.

The Post Office declined to give any further details on what its current account will look like, and would not say if the account will pay any in-credit interest, whether it will be a paid-for 'packaged' account which comes with certain perks or exactly how people will be able to access the account.

Financial products already provided by the Post Office, like savings accounts, mortgages and insurance, are offered in partnership with Bank of Ireland, and the new current account is also part of this agreement.

But with larger banks dominating the current account market, it is said there is a lack of choice for customers.

Nick Kennett, director of financial services at Post Office, said: 'The Post Office is undertaking a significant transformation, providing more and more essential services to our customers across mails, government and financial services.

'The introduction of the current account is a further statement of this ambition.'

Local businessman, and chair of the Watton Town Team, a group set up to promote the local high street, said he looks forward to hearing if the Post Office will next propose an account in the future for small businesses like his, Edward's Newsagents on the high street in the town.