Simon Read: 'Computer chaos confirms the importance of branches, but there's much unhappiness about pension planning'


The continuing troubles experienced by customers of NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland (not forgetting Ulster Bank) this week rather pointedly demonstrated how important it is to have a decently-sized bank branch network.

With an estimated 12 million customers hit by the massive computer cock-up that left salaries and payments uncredited to accounts, many reported having their debit cards barred at tills.

To help customers, the bank kept 1,000 or so branches open to 7pm on Thursday and last night so they could get at some of their cash. It was the least they could do. But without the branches, they wouldn't have been able to offer even that basic help and would have left many people stranded with no access to cash at all.

After my article last week questioning whether we still need bank branches, NatWest's computer chaos serves as a strong argument for keeping them. And judging by my bulging postbag this week, a lot of you are in favour of keeping branches too.

However, if they are to be useful then their hours must be changed, as happened with the extended opening this week and weekend.

"Branches must be open when customers can get to them," wrote Robert Oliver of Grays in Essex. "Those of us who work out of town cannot get in at lunchtime and do not want to take a half-day just to visit the bank."

I suspect banks will listen to that and – in some places – introduce branches with longer opening hours.

Fabian Acker, meanwhile, emailed to complain about music being played at his bank branch.

"HSBC has introduced background music so it is impossible to carry out even the simplest transactions in branches without raising your voice," he reported, calling the music "the same background noise that you get in a third-rate supermarket".

HSBC has had the music for a couple of years and says most customers welcome it.

What do you think?

I also had a lot of feedback from readers about my column last week suggesting that people need to start their pension planning as soon as possible if they want to have any choice when they reach retirement age.

Paul Bunting of Worthing in West Sussex agrees with the principle – which the Government is promoting with its new, auto-enrolment scheme to be launched this autumn – that all workers should pay into a pension scheme.

He wrote: "I think pensions should be compulsory, with contributions starting with the first pay packet."

Mr Bunting concedes that many young people struggle to afford pension payments, but added: "Save they must, for delay can be extremely expensive and complete denial can mean terrible impoverishment in retirement."

I'm taken to task by Susan Wood of Sheffield because of my pension advice and another article I wrote last week about the pain still being experienced by Equitable savers.

"Taken together, these two articles are inconsistent," she wrote. "The Equitable savers did exactly what you are exhorting people to do. But we got shafted."

They're not the only ones, of course. There are plenty of fed-up pension savers who have seen their retirement pots shrink in recent times while they have been told they will have to wait much longer than anticipated for their state payouts.

"We used to believe in the importance of saving for pensions," Ms Wood said. "But our experience has shown that, when even the Government cannot be trusted to regulate, it's too risky.

"We are therefore telling our younger relatives that saving for pensions is a mug's game."

I can't agree with the last point. Yes, millions have been let down by the likes of Equitable, or by losing valuable retirement benefits when their company scheme has switched from final salary to money-purchase.

But that doesn't mean anyone can afford to ignore the inevitable. And it is inevitable that – if we live that long – we will need money to spend in retirement.

We're not going to get it from the state, so we will have only what we can provide ourselves.

Mr Bunting points out that some people who work for themselves may have an alternative solution.

"Many traders can sell their businesses to finance their retirements, so they have a way out."

The rest of us are unlikely to have an asset to sell to raise cash to do the things we want to when we retire. Which is why it's important to save. It doesn't have to be through a pension scheme – although the tax benefits make it attractive.

An important thing to remember about a pension is that it is just a savings scheme, but for a specific purpose. It's entirely possible instead to build up a nest-egg through ISAs or normal deposit accounts, or even using alternative investments, such as gold, wine, vinyl or whatever.

The key is to save. Anyone who fails to do so will suffer in later life.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

    Market Risk & Control Manager

    Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

    £320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Head of Audit

    To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam