Epic role: Stationer Sarah Laker relies heavily on her post office for banking
Once associated mostly with selling stamps and handling parcels, the country’s network of 14,400 Post Offices is now a major financial lifeline for the thousands of people who own small and medium-sized businesses.
Since 2015, more than 5,000 bank branches have closed – or are soon to shut – meaning small businesses are now turning to local post offices to pay in takings, withdraw cash, get change and carry out their business banking.
Recent research by the Post Office found that 43 per cent of small businesses say they wouldn’t be able to function without one being nearby.
There are 1,300 villages and towns where the post office is the only provider of basic banking services, making it crucial to local businesses. More than £3billion in cash is deposited and withdrawn each month at post offices around the country, with more than £1billion deposited by business customers.
Typical is Sarah Laker, who runs her shop Stationery Supplies in the town of Marple near Stockport. In the 16 years since she began, the local NatWest, RBS and Barclays branches have all closed, leaving the town without a bank.
‘The banks closing means there are fewer people coming into town to do their banking and shopping,’ says NatWest customer Sarah, ‘and it does make it harder to run a business.’
She adds: ‘If I want to visit a NatWest branch, I have to close the shop or pay another staff member to mind the shop and travel into Stockport which is at least an hour round trip. It’s just not practical.’
Thankfully, the local post office is just around the corner from Sarah’s shop. ‘We rely heavily on it,’ says Sarah. ‘I pay in all my cash takings – which represent about 25 per cent of all sales – and I can get change when needed.
‘Lots of customers now pay by notes rather than coins so we get through an awful lot of change and the post office is perfect for that.’ Cash gets credited to her de ella business account immediately which is great for cashflow, and when Sarah dispatches products ordered online she also does that at the post office.
‘I go at least twice a week and it’s a vital part of the community here,’ she says.
‘The only problem is at Christmas when it gets really busy!’ Karim Ullah and his wife Sultana opened their Bengali restaurant, Brohmon, in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, just before lockdown in 2020 – having worked for years running pop-up restaurants.
They are now TripAdvisor’s number one Indian restaurant in Essex.
After years of closures, Barclays was the only bank left in the village – but it shut last year. ‘There’s not a single bank left in a village of 4,000 people which isn’t a good situation, especially for elderly people,’ says Karim.
‘Thankfully, the post office is right opposite our restaurant and we use it all the time, for taking out cash, getting change and doing all our business banking.
‘We’re just launching a range of beers and chutneys, so we use the post office to send out samples, and they receive deliveries for us in turn which is really useful.’
The husband and wife team running the post office also help recruitment, particularly crucial now in the hospitality industry.
‘They found us four new staff members including two chefs,’ says Karim. ‘They’re great at chatting to customers and finding out who would be perfect to work in the restaurant. It’s a lifeline for us and the village.’
Sophie de Taranto designs, makes and sells jewelery through her business Shutter Jewellery. Her partner, Alex Smith, runs a computer business called Click, Save and Print.
Both have business accounts with HSBC but in their home town of Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, HSBC closed for good last August, leaving the post office the only place in town where they can do any banking. ‘We both still deal a lot in cash,’ explains Sophie. ‘I sell through craft markets, especially in the run-up to Christmas, when many people still pay in cash. My partner is also often paid in cash by business customers.’
She adds: ‘It’s easy to pay money into the post office, the staff are helpful and friendly, and I can send out products using Royal Mail and get proof of postage.
‘The only problem is that the Walton branch can get busy, although we worked out that the best time to go is between 4pm and 4.30pm – while avoiding Saturdays at all costs.’
Martin Kearsley, banking director at the Post Office, says: ‘Over the past few years, post offices have often become the only counter in town where businesses can deposit cash takings.
‘This vital role that postmasters play in their local community is becoming more important as bank branches continue to close.
‘Where cash is withdrawn, it tends to be spent locally with small businesses. That’s good for business and great for local communities.’
Martin McTague, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, says: ‘The more our post offices are expected to take on, the more they’re going to need resources and support to meet increased customer demand. ‘
The banks have shown a willingness to back post offices. That must continue.’
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