‘Mo­bile bank­ing’ means a bank on a truck in ru­ral Ger­many

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

TSCHIRN, Ger­many — Bank man­ager Juer­gen Schaller never ex­pected to end up get­ting a trucker’s li­cense and driv­ing 20,000 kilo­me­ters per year.

But as brick-and-mor­tar branches van­ish from the rolling Fran­co­nia re­gion of north­ern Bavaria, the neatly dressed sav­ings bank ex­ec­u­tive jumps be­hind the wheel four days a week to bring mo­bile ser­vices — in­clud­ing cash ma­chine and con­sul­ta­tion room — to tiny coun­try­side vil­lages.

The switch from desk to dash­board has en­abled Schaller “to do some­thing else while stay­ing in touch with the cus­tomers”, he told AFP.

High-street banks are in­creas­ingly be­ing forced to shut­ter branches, as more and more cus­tomers go on­line, ru­ral pop­u­la­tions shrink and low in­ter­est rates eat into prof­its.

As a re­sult, banks such as the pub­lic-sec­tor Sparkassen, where Schaller is a branch man­ager, are hav­ing to re­think

In Schaller’s KronachKum­bach dis­trict alone, tucked away in the south­east cor­ner of Ger­many, six branches sport­ing the red “S” logo of the widely pop­u­lar sav­ings banks group closed their doors last year.

A sim­i­lar trend is seen across the coun­try as a whole: na­tion­wide, the num­ber of phys­i­cal bank branches has plunged by a quar­ter over the past 15 years to 35 per 100,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to a study by pub­lic in­vest­ment bank KfW.

The Euro­pean av­er­age is 37 per 100,000, with Spa­niards the most spoiled for choice with 67.

St­ef­fen Haberzettl, the sales di­rec­tor for the KronachS­parkasse, said it was pri­mar­ily lo­cal busi­nesses and older peo­ple who had not em­braced on­line bank­ing who were tak­ing ad­van­tage of the mo­bile branch, which first set off on its rounds in 2015.

Haberzettl es­ti­mated their busi­ness mod­els. that around 20 peo­ple vis­ited the bank at each stop, equiv­a­lent to 12,000 cus­tomer con­tacts a year -- a tiny num­ber com­pared with some 8,800 on­line bank­ing lo­gins per day.

But “we in­vested in this ser­vice for our clients know­ing that it wouldn’t make enough money to pay for it­self”, he said.

Lo­cal politi­cians who sit on the Sparkasse board were re­luc­tant to plunge their con­stituents into a ban­k­less wilder­ness as the num­ber of clo­sures mount. So, they opted to hit the road in­stead in one of Ger­many’s 66 itin­er­ant branches.

In the bank’s trailer, 70-some­thing Maria Neubauer is happy to wait for an ap­point­ment with Schaller in his tiny of­fice dur­ing his 90-minute stop op­po­site the church in the slate-tiled vil­lage of Tschirn.

“The Sparkasse bus is great for mak­ing trans­fers, or do­ing any­thing you need,” she said.

“We’re happy, es­pe­cially those of us who don’t have a car” to visit a branch fur­ther away, an­other vil­lager Maria Greiner said as she printed an ac­count state­ment from a nearby ma­chine.

Other cus­tomers were busy with­draw­ing cash on the chilly town square from the ATM em­bed­ded in the flank of the trailer.

Schaller makes his rounds to small vil­lages such as this from Mon­day to Thurs­day, keep­ing Fri­days free to do main­te­nance work on the red and white truck and trailer.

He has no ac­cess to the cash on board, and so far he’s had no run-ins with would-be bankrob­bers.

Bank­ing sec­tor ex­perts pre­dict that the Europe-wide trend to­ward fewer bank branches will con­tinue apace.

“The speed at which it will hap­pen is hard to pre­dict, and will de­pend above all on how the banks man­age to keep branches rel­e­vant as a chan­nel for their cus­tomers,” said Thomas Sch­narr of con­sul­tancy Oliver Wyman.

TIMM SCHAMBERGER / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A cus­tomer with­draws money from a cash ma­chine at a mo­bile of­fice bus of the sav­ings bank Sparkasse in Tschirn, south­ern Ger­many, on Jan 30.

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