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Low-cost ‘banks on wheels’

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A growing number of banks are introducing “counters on wheels,” or vehicles that allow them to provide some over-the-counter services outside their outlets, reported Asahi Shimbun (Japan).

The mobile banks first attracted attention following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011.
Since then, they have been used in disaster areas and in depopulated communities where the banks have bailed out.
Aeon Bank in April last year introduced one mobile financial services vehicle loaded with an ATM.

The vehicle was delivered to Kumamoto Prefecture when a series of devastating earthquakes struck the region in April 2016. Bank officials dispatched the vehicle from Chiba Prefecture to quake-ravaged areas, and put it into operation on April 16 at a parking lot of the Aeon Mall Kumamoto shopping complex.

“We got encouragement from disaster survivors, who gave us words of gratitude,” said an official with Aeon Bank’s ATM operations department.

Joyo Bank, based in Ibaraki Prefecture, in January 2015 introduced a similar vehicle equipped with the functions of a consultation counter alongside an ATM. It operated for a total of seven days at parking lots of evacuation shelters and elsewhere during the flood of September 2015, which involved the collapse of an embankment along the Kinugawa river.

In addition to ATM services and consultations over the funding of house rebuilding efforts, the vehicle also provided a power supply for disaster survivors to recharge smartphones.

Orix Auto Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of mobile financial services vehicles, said about 50 such vehicles have been introduced by financial institutions, including local banks, credit associations and agricultural cooperatives. Apart from disaster response, they are also being increasingly used in provincial communities where financial institutions have closed down their outlets and money services have become less accessible.

The vehicles cost 30 million yen to 50 million yen ($270,000 to $450,000) per unit, and an Orix Auto official said such a vehicle can be operated at less than half the cost of operating an outlet.

“The market size (of mobile financial services vehicles) will spread to several hundred units in a matter of several years,” the official predicted.

Agricultural cooperatives across Japan are expected to deploy about 100 such vehicles during the next three years.

“Some mobile financial services vehicles are being used to sell daily necessities,” said an official with Norinchukin Bank, which has close ties with agricultural, fisheries and forestry cooperatives. “An increasing number of such vehicles are being introduced to maintain services in depopulated communities.”

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