Leading Article: Better to bank on redundancy

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The Independent Online
The news that one in five bank jobs - 75,000 in all - are set to disappear over the next few years is enough to conjure an apocalyptic vision in Middle England. Already gripped by anxiety and uncertainty, many in solid surburbia regard this forecast as the final blow. The threat to Captain Mainwaring and his ilk seems to confirm the worst fears that old Britain, once safe for white-collar workers, has gone for ever. The recession is over, bank profits have ballooned, yet the once paternalistic banks are still prepared to cast out their staff. When even those whose lives are synonymous with security face the sack, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Yet these fears are being overstated. The blight that closed so many pits is not being visited upon those whose fingers can count notes as efficiently as shipyard workers once knocked in rivets.

True, it will be disruptive for many branch officials to find that they are to be paid off. The ensuing uncertainty will cause considerable private strain on the individuals directly affected and on their families. But those who want a new job should be able to find one. In time they may even be better off than they are now. This is what one clearing bank discovered a few years ago when, short of experienced staff, it tried to tempt former managers back from early retirement. Hardly any were interested; many were doing a nice line in financial consultancy. They told the bank what it could do with its offer.

The truth is that many clerical jobs in the high street banks will continue to disappear because of competitive pressures and technological advance. Telephone banking and cashpoint machines have combined to render many of these posts redundant. At the same time, however, employment in the financial services sector continues to expand. There seems to be almost limitless demand for personal financial advice on mortgages, pensions and saving schemes. And many of those who will lose their jobs have the academic qualifications, technical skills, and experience of dealing with people that is required to make them highly employable. They will not have to "get on their bikes" to leave an industrial wasteland in search of jobs. Many will find a new post just down the road at the local insurance company.

The trade unions may bemoan the technological and cultural revolutions sweeping the finance sector. But they should forget their Luddite tendencies and welcome the adaptability within this industry that will guarantee its long-term health and its capacity to provide jobs.

In short, although these job cuts in banking seem to the harbinger of further doom for worried white-collar workers, they are in fact the model of how structural change should occur. Today, security no longer exists in the form of "jobs for life". It lies in being employable and in the economy providing plenty of well-paid jobs that reflect the economic needs of changing times. We should observe and copy this industry and not bemoan its fate.