THERE was a time when banks promised to be “here for you”. Now, in many places, they have gone. They are disappearing into the ether of the internet. Branch closures have seen the high street bank become the no street bank. Even mobile services are going nowhere fast, with communal visits cut to 20 minutes in brutal time-and-motion exercises.

Now, the latest fear is that half the country’s 5,300 free-to-use bank machines could disappear. There will be a hole where the hole in the wall used to be. This is worrying, particularly in rural areas, where bank machines are already thin on the ground, and particularly too for the elderly, many of whom rely more on cash for day-to-day purchases.

This isn’t just about the elderly, though, and we are wary of a subtext whereby older people are enjoined to get with the banks’ programme and use cards or go online. Nine in 10 people use their local cash machines, and there are many activities for which folding notes remain useful.

Where folk, old or not so old, find themselves having to take a bus to the nearest town to use a cash machine, that is both an inconvenience to them and a threat to local shops, if such customers end up doing their shopping in town too.

The reason for the threat to cash machines – flagged up by bank machine providers – is complex and involves a cut in interchange fees that threatens the profitability of the machines. But that will cut no ice with customers, who just see repeated reductions in services.

On the credit side, banks have spent years developing excellent electronic services. It’s the way the wind is blowing, but for those not online it’s becoming a perfect storm of inconvenience. Even for those who are happy to conduct many transactions online, the cash machine is still valued.

For all the virtuous advertising slogans, the fear once more is that service is way down the list of banking priorities (with profit taking first, second and third places). Banks have taken a good few tellings in recent years but they need to be reminded again: it’s about responsibility not just viability.

Today, at Holyrood, MSPs will debate a motion about saving bank machines, and there will be calls for an urgent review into the implications of thee latest possible cuts. We hope the banks will pay heed to this. One could almost understand them having become immune to so much finger-wagging of late.

But they still have a chance to prevent this latest inconvenience to customers. They know they need us as much as we need them and that, as matters stand, their claim on our goodwill is already heavily overdrawn.