Bruce Whitfield: The planned banking strike is like turkeys voting for Christmas

Business Insider SA


  • The Labour Court is expected to rule on whether banking union Sasbo can go ahead with a banking sector strike.
  • But the strike comes about ten years too late to have any effect.
  • If anything, it will show that machines, not people, are the future of banking.
  • For more go to Business Insider SA.

UPDATE: Banking strike interdicted, labour court rules

This week's planned banking-industry strike aimed at stemming job losses and halting branch closures comes about a decade too late to have any effect.

If Friday's strike does go ahead, it will simply help make the point that machines are the future of banking, more so than people.

Banking union Sasbo wants a moratorium on job losses, the regulation of executive pay, and training support for the humans being put out of work.

That horse, however, may very well have bolted and the trade union members pay to guard their interests was napping when they could still have made a difference.

See also: Nedbank physically shrunk by 29% more last year – and it isn’t done contracting yet

Bizarrely, a banking-sector strike in which electronic systems carry on as if nothing has changed may play into the hands of number crunchers looking at ways of cutting costs in a low-growth environment.

Most SA banks have been downsizing and repurposing bank branches for years. It was Standard Bank's decision to close more than 100 branches earlier this year that shocked Sasbo into action.

Big business doesn’t want a strike and Business Unity South Africa (Busa), the association of large business, is seeking this morning to interdict the action.

The country can not afford more job losses. The official unemployment rate already stands at more than 29% and with little economic reform, that is likely to worsen.

The UK has seen more than a third of its bank branches close since 2015 and hundreds more have reduced operating hours, according to consumer watchdog group Which.

See also: Global banks are cutting 30,000 jobs this year. It's a sign the banking crisis is only getting worse.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) closed almost three quarters, or 412, of its branches, while NatWest, which is also part of RBS, closed 638 branches, the highest number of any group in that market.

The UK branch network has reduced from 9,803 to 6,549 in four-and-a-half years and challenger banks are opening new branches at 1% of the rate of closures.

It’s a trend that’s likely to continue here, perhaps not as quickly but certainly the ease of using technology rather than battling queues is making the branch less relevant to bank customer's needs.

Not only are jobs threatened, but poorer customers as well as the elderly, without access to technology, are likely to suffer as the banking revolution gathers pace.

See also: A 260km trip to the bank: here’s how hard Standard Bank’s branch closures will hit the Northern Cape, Free State, and other provinces

As for the planned strike, if it goes ahead and customers are not affected beyond a few branch closures, the shift to electronic banking will accelerate. The strike will be just like turkeys voting for Christmas.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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