Belgium’s banks could start practising more liberal opening hours from as early as next month, if unions representing bank employees agree to a proposal formulated by the banks themselves, De Tijd reports. Under the agreement reached by the banks, branches would be able to open until 2000 and in certain cases until 2200. Opening could also be extended to Saturday afternoons (after the current limit of 1300) and, in exceptional cases, to Sundays and public holidays.
The new liberalisation would be the first major change in banking hours since a collective agreement reached in the 1950s, which has been chipped away at piecemeal but never substantially altered.
The question many bank customers will ask themselves, however, is “what banks”? Over the years, banks have systematically closed branches and let staff go in favour of unmanned SelfBank offices and ATMs. Now, even those are closing down steadily, as banks move their business online.
The move away from cash is in line with the policy of the government and the financial sector to restrict cash transactions more and more, to make money laundering and even simple tax evasion harder. Even the most humble neighbourhood night-shop is now equipped with a payment terminal, which from their point of view makes them less attractive to opportunity robbers.
The banks will now enter into consultation with unions to firm up the broad lines of the new liberalisation. For customers, however, the agreement does not mean the banks throwing open their doors every weekend or public holiday; any changes that come about within the framework will be a decision for the individual bank and its changing circumstances.