In rural Germany, ‘mobile banking’ means a bank on a truck

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A customer withdraws money from a cash machine at a mobile office bus of the savings bank Sparkasse in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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Juergen Schaller (L), employee of the savings bank Sparkasse, serves a customer in a mobile office bus in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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Juergen Schaller, employee of the savings bank Sparkasse, poses for a photo in a mobile office bus in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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A customer withdraws money from a cash machine at a mobile office bus of the savings bank Sparkasse in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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In rural Germany, ‘mobile banking’ means a bank on a truck

TSCHIRN, Germany: Bank manager Juergen Schaller never expected to end up getting a trucker’s license and driving 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) per year.
But as brick-and-mortar branches vanish from the rolling Franconia region of northern Bavaria, the neatly dressed savings bank executive jumps behind the wheel four days a week to bring mobile services — including cash machine and consultation room — to tiny countryside villages.
The switch from desk to dashboard has enabled Schaller “to do something else while staying in touch with the customers,” he told AFP.
High-street banks are increasingly being forced to shutter branches, as more and more customers go online, rural populations shrink and low interest rates eat into profits.
As a result, banks such as the public-sector Sparkassen, where Schaller is a branch manager, are having to rethink their business models.
In Schaller’s Kronach-Kumbach district alone, tucked away in the southeast corner of Germany, six branches sporting the red “S” logo of the widely popular savings banks group closed their doors last year.
A similar trend is seen across the country as a whole: nationwide, the number of physical bank branches has plunged by a quarter over the past 15 years to 35 per 100,000 people, according to a study by public investment bank KfW.
The European average is 37 per 100,000, with Spaniards the most spoiled for choice with 67.
Steffen Haberzettl, the sales director for the Kronach-Kumbach Sparkasse, said it was primarily local businesses and older people who had not embraced online banking who were taking advantage of the mobile branch, which first set off on its rounds in 2015.

Haberzettl estimated that around 20 people visited the bank at each stop, equivalent to 12,000 customer contacts a year — a tiny number compared with some 8,800 online banking logins per day.
But “we invested in this service for our clients knowing that it wouldn’t make enough money to pay for itself,” he said.
Local politicians who sit on the Sparkasse board were reluctant to plunge their constituents into a bankless wilderness as the number of closures mount. So, they opted to hit the road instead in one of Germany’s 66 itinerant branches.
In the bank’s trailer, 70-something Maria Neubauer is happy to wait for an appointment with Schaller in his tiny office during his 90-minute stop opposite the church in the slate-tiled village of Tschirn.
“The Sparkasse bus is great for making transfers, or doing anything you need,” she said.
“We’re happy, especially those of us who don’t have a car” to visit a branch further away, another villager Maria Greiner said as she printed an account statement from a nearby machine.
Other customers were busy withdrawing cash on the chilly town square from the ATM embedded in the flank of the trailer.
Schaller makes his rounds to small villages such as this from Monday to Thursday, keeping Fridays free to do maintenance work on the red and white truck and trailer.
He has no access to the cash on board, and so far he’s had no run-ins with would-be bankrobbers.

Banking sector experts predict that the Europe-wide trend toward fewer bank branches will continue apace.
“The speed at which it will happen is hard to predict, and will depend above all on how the banks manage to keep branches relevant as a channel for their customers,” said Thomas Schnarr of consultancy Oliver Wyman.
Nevertheless, “human relationships remain fundamental. Especially complicated questions require personalized advice for retail clients and businesses,” his colleague Alexander Peitsch said.
For his part, Juergen Schaller said he is not qualified to provide such specialist counselling to his clients, many of whom know him by name.
Instead, he passes on individual requests for loans or investments to a colleague sitting in one of the Sparkasse’s brick-and-mortar branches.


Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

Updated 17 December 2018
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Meghan Markle’s father appeals to British queen over rift with daughter

  • Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered
  • Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview

LONDON: Meghan Markle’s father directly appealed to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on Monday to intercede and end his estrangement from his daughter, the wife of Prince Harry.
Former US actress Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, married Harry, the queen’s grandson and sixth-in-line to the throne, in a glittering ceremony at Windsor Castle in May.
But the immediate build-up to the wedding was overshadowed by her father, Thomas, a former lighting director for US TV soaps and sitcoms, who pulled out days beforehand after undergoing heart surgery.
Meghan’s father said he had not had contact with his daughter for months and repeated text messages to Meghan had gone unanswered.
When asked what message he had for Queen Elizabeth, 92, Thomas Markle said: “I would appreciate anything she can do and I would think that she would want to resolve the family problems.”
“All families, royal or otherwise, are the same and they should all be together certainly around the holidays,” Markle added.
Markle said that Meghan, 37, had not sent him a Christmas card but that he was hopeful that they could at some time build their relationship.
“Please reach out to me,” he said of Meghan. “I love my daughter very much and she has to know that... Just send me a text.”
“All I can say is that I’m here she knows it and I’ve reached out to her and I need her to reach back to me. I love her very much,” Markle said. “This can’t continue forever.”
Harry, 34, and Meghan are expecting their first child in the spring of 2019.
“I am certainly hoping that everything goes well and that they produce a beautiful baby and I’ll get to see a little Meghan or a little Harry — that would be very nice and I look forward to that happening,” Markle said.
“I think she’ll make a great Mom.”
Markle dismissed reports that Meghan could at times be rude. She was, he said, very polite as she had been raised on Hollywood stages.
When asked if she was a social climber, her father said: “She’s always been a very controlling person and that’s part of her nature but she has never been rude.”
Kensington Palace did not immediately comment on the interview.