Suffolk

WhatsApp 'change exchange' to counter town's loss of banks

Karen Prime and Stacey Newrick
Image caption Karen Prime and Stacey Newrick are members of the 'change exchange'

Small business owners have set up their own WhatsApp "change exchange" to replace a town's lost banking services.

Traders in Halesworth, Suffolk, use the messaging app to connect with others keen to swap notes for coins.

The town lost its last two bank branches last year, when small businesses warned of the negative impact it could have on them.

Business owners said it was a "handy" alternative to getting change from the post office or a visiting mobile bank.

Image caption Traders keep in touch on WhatsApp to swap change

Lloyds Bank closed its Halesworth branch in May 2018, saying customers were increasingly moving to online services, and now has a mobile banking bus service which visits three times a week.

Six months later Barclays closed its branch, and the last remaining cash point in the town.

Lloyds customers now face an 11-mile journey to their nearest permanent branch in Beccles, while Barclays customers must travel to Southwold, nine miles away.

Image caption Karen Prime said small business owners had come up with their own solution

Karen Prime, owner of Edwards restaurant in the town, said business owners had decided to solve the problem themselves.

"It's a change exchange, so if any business has excess change then they put a message on the WhatsApp group," she said.

"Anybody that's in need of change, instead of going to to the post office they can go to that business and swap the change."

Image caption Beautician Stacey Newrick said the messaging group was a useful alternative

Stacey Newrick, of the Hidden Beauty salon, said: "It would be easier for me to have a bank branch but it's handy for me to have other businesses nearby that I can get change from."

Elderly customers also say they have been left isolated by the loss of permanent branches.

Luke Holland of Lloyds Bank said customers were able to carry out transactions in the mobile branch, and staff were on hand to offer demonstrations of online services.

Image caption The mobile Lloyds Bank branch often has a queue of customers

More on this story