Tag Archives: Post Office

Epsom Ladies day, 1stJune was extra scary this year. The usual scrummage of hats and high heels at the bars turned nasty when the Visa credit card system crashed. A lot of ladies were less than impressed and bar staff had to be rescued by security.

It came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers

The problem was Europewide according to Visa which blamed a hardware failure rather than a Russian cyber-attack. The problem was not the Ladies or the Merchant accounts but a Visa computer which fell over and could not send back authorisations. Visa had it sorted by Saturday lunchtime but it came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers. The vast majority of high-value sales are electronic, either in-store or online but few seemed to have an in-store backup plan, apart from cash. Forlorn staff standing outside a store waving ‘Cash only’ placards does not inspire Consumer loyalty. Long delays built up at the Severn Bridge toll and the London Congestion Charge system ground to a halt. It all came as a unpleasant surprise and warning of just how vulnerable Consumers are in a cashless society. My enterprising garage owner rose to the challenge. He dug around in his storeroom and emerged with a big smile and a ‘Click Clack’card voucher machine.

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer)

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) i.e. credit and debit cards but they have a long way to go to match mainstream retailers. Visa failure meant queues quickly built up at ATM’s, some of which also failed so if you already take plastic or plan to do so (recommended) this may be the time to consider a backup plan for your hardwired terminal. I was surprised so few High Street retailers could offer an alternative. I-Zettle, Square, Google Pay, Paypal or Apple Pay are all options instead of cash. They could be worth investigating – there are plenty of options at increasingly-competitive rates. Some also incorporate the £30 contactless service.

Where have all the Bank branches gone?

A second problem faced retailers on Monday morning – how to pay the cash into their bank account. Where have all the Bank branches gone? The British Bankers Association says log-ins for online banking have grown to about 9.6 million per day whilst ‘over the counter’ transactions have fallen by 6% in the last year. More than 600 bank branches closed in the UK last year with many small towns in rural areas losing all their banks. Commuter towns have also been affected. Customers are more likely to use branch banking near their place of work whilst at work.

High Street Bank branches have shrunk from about 11,000 to 8,000 over the last 10 years and more closures are expected. Newcomer Metrobank has bucked the trend by opening 40 branches with a further 60 expected by 2020 but they are in conurbations.

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities as many host a large proportion of home businesses. Basic banking is still available at 11,500 Post Office branches but they’re also downsizing as Postal services move online. To assist, the much-troubled Royal Bank of Scotland has introduced a ‘Bank on Wheels’ for rural areas with some success and ATM manufacturers are developing unattended ‘lobby service’ Mini-banks.

Markets need to widen their services

The Charity Age UK has pointed out how older customers reluctant or unable to go online are suffering. The Federation of Small Businesses is also campaigning on behalf of small businesses and In response HMG has promised additional prior consultation by the end of this year but the writing is on the wall. Small wonder then that Supermarkets have been offering EFT, checkout ‘cashback’, ATM’s and Sub Post Office concessions for years. How many Markets do the same? Markets need to widen their services..

TSB lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April

Visa was not the only one with online problems. At least it was not suffering the ‘online assault’ described by TSB Chief Exec. Paul Pester to the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee. He confirmed TSB had lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April. During that month it attempted to transfer 1.3 BILLION customer records from TSB’s previous parent company, Lloyds to it’s new Spanish owners Sabadell. But TSB was ‘overwhelmed’ by fraud attacks during this ‘system migration’ which generated 10,600 fraud alerts, 2,200 attempts at cyberfraud and up to 1,300 TSB customers suffering actual financial loss. Mr Pester and TSB Chairman Richard Meddings could not apologise enough to the 94,000 customers who had lodged complaints. MP’s on the Committee could be seen shifting uneasily in their seats and thanking their lucky stars they didn’t have to clear up the mess.

Sainsbury’s announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia

Meanwhile Sainsburys continue to grab headlines following their proposed Asda merger news. The Supermarket announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia. It’s being run in conjunction with charity ‘Alzheimer’s Scotland’ and bosses hope it can be rolled out across the country. Staff have received extra training to help sufferers and the checkout lane has been de-cluttered, but now with images which represent coins and their value.

Very commendable I’m sure but actually old news. Market stalls have been offering enhanced service to disabled Shoppers for years.


News-Beach and deck chairs

I once worked alongside an Insurance Actuary who claimed he could ask a dozen questions and then predict when you were going to die, plus or minus a couple of years. He used to crack actuarial jokes like ‘Did you know – half the population of the UK is below average intelligence?’ and we called him ‘Mister Average’. He was weird but very clever – he knew the Life Tables inside out and was very, very good at selling life insurance. Predicting when a customer would cash in their chips was amusing then but a lot less so thirty years on when someone has been fixing the interest rates on your hard-earned savings. I’m not really sure I want to know how long I’m going to live in retirement whilst watching my savings run out. I’d rather be Bob Diamond, 60-year old former Chief Exec. at Barclays who resigned over the rate-fixing scandal and is estimated to be worth £600 million.

My guess is the retirement age of workers in the Markets industry is well above the national average and a lot higher than that of Bankers. But if you retire later does it mean you’ll snuff it sooner than Bob? Because you’ve spent a healthy life out in the open air and not stuck in an office maybe you’ll die older than him. That’ll show him.

Delayed retirement is not bad for your health.

Last month the BBC’s Radio Four hired a tame Actuary to do a bit of myth-busting. They asked him: Does a demanding job (Market trader?) or delayed retirement (Market trader?) mean you die sooner than someone with a cushy job (Banker?) or early retirement (Banker?) The Actuary investigated the much-quoted internet story that employees of aircraft-maker Boeing who retire at 55 live, on average, to 83. But those who retire at 65 are dead by 67. Well you’ll be reassured to learn that according to the administrators of the Boeing pension scheme that is just an urban myth. God only knows who makes up these stories but delayed retirement is not bad for your health.

But data from the UK Office of National Statistics does suggest people in certain jobs die earlier than others.

The difference between job-types is not marked. Bankers and Actuaries do live some 3 years longer on average than Scaffolders and Miners but there’s no category for Market traders. Shopkeepers die – again on average – at age 86 which is only one year less than the longest-lived (Guess who? – Bankers and Actuaries). But because life expectancy increases year-on-year you can probably add a few more years to the UK average mortality age of 87 for men and 90 for women by the time you get there. But remember that these are still averages and you haven’t got nine lives. Stepping in front of a bus will definitely make you below average.

They also busted another myth: The later you retire, the earlier you die. Quite the reverse actually. Mortality ages are slightly lower – again on average – for staff who retire at 55 than for those who work to 65. But, as they pointed out some people are forced to retire early because of ill health so although the statistics suggest people who retire earlier die slightly earlier, early retirement may not be the reason. They also confirmed that women live three years longer than men which is obviously very unfair.

So does it matter where you live? If you want to live longer should you move house? If so you should retire to Hinton St. George (Somerset), Aldeburgh (Suffolk) or Frinton-on-Sea (Essex) where you’re likely – again on average – to spin it out for another 4 years. Residents of Hinton St. George can expect to live for 88.7 (men) or 91.6 years (women). This may account for the extraordinary level of support for it’s Village Shop and Post Office.

Back in 2008 the proposed closure of Hinton St. George Post Office brought Nick Clegg – newly-elected leader of the LibDems – to the village on the campaign trail. The Community was determined to secure the future of their Shop and Post Office and political support was just what they needed to raise their profile and drive things forward. Several recently-retired and very determined residents saw the threat posed to the village and worked-up a Business Plan for a Community Shop owned by an Industrial Provident Society. They called-in some favours to sort out the paperwork, established the Society, registered it with the FSA and raised £100K of working capital through donations and pledges. Their next step was to secure a lottery grant which enabled them to convert the upper floor of the shop into a residential flat for rent. A share offer is now planned to raise further development capital to diversify and develop the business. Good for them – self-help works.

All of this is of course in line with the ‘Big Society’ agenda promoted by the government. Making local provision and delivering local services through so-called Social Enterprises such as Provident Societies is very much flavour of the month. Membership of the Society is available to all for a nominal sum and the project is proceeding nicely thanks to enormous support from the local community.

If you’re planning on retiring from the Markets industry I can guarantee you’ll be bored stiff within six months of retirement. Consider establishing a Social Enterprise for a worthy cause. It’ll be a doddle after running your Market business and you won’t be immortal, but you won’t be bored either.