​Bank branches closing at an alarming rate with 60 shutting a month, warns Which?

New research from Which? shows bank branches are closing at a rate of 60 a month – leaving people struggling to access the financial services they rely on across the UK.

The consumer champion has tracked bank branch closures across the UK since 2015 and can reveal that 2,868 branches have closed during this period, or are scheduled to close by the end of 2018.

Which?’s research also shows that closures have been accelerating since 2016 – even as the possibility of ATMs being removed from communities further threatens access to banking services.

So far this year 670 branches have closed or been scheduled for closure – putting 2018 on course to overtake the number of 2017 closures (879).

Looking into bank branch closures from 2015 Which? found:

  • Scotland has been worst hit, with 368 branches having shut since 2015, or scheduled to close by the end of 2018.
  • This is followed by the South East (361), the North West (353) and South West (327)
  • Natwest has closed the most branches, with 638 having shut, or scheduled to close by the end of 2018.
  • This is followed by HSBC (440), Lloyds (366) and RBS (350).

Under the Access to Banking Standard, introduced in 2015, banks have a requirement to engage with their customers and communities they serve ahead of planned closures. And Which? believes that robust consultation should take place to ensure the needs of banks’ customers are being met before their access to financial services is removed.

Communities are often told that Post Offices are an alternative option, but they don’t offer the full range of banking services that a customer can receive in a branch. Meanwhile, mobile banking trucks that visit towns and villages are simply not as convenient as a dedicated bank branch.  Although online banking and mobile apps are on the rise there are still many people who either cannot engage with these services or simply prefer traditional forms of banking. And as recent IT meltdowns at TSB and Visa have shown – such systems are not infallible.

Bank branch closures are also accelerating at a time when the free-to-use ATM network is under threat from changes to the way it is funded. This combination of branch and machine closures could leave the 2.7 million people almost entirely reliant on cash struggling to conveniently access their preferred payment method.

Which? Money Expert, Gareth Shaw, said:

“Bank branch closures are happening at an alarming rate – with almost 60 shutting every month – stripping customers and communities of access to the financial services they need.

“While the decision is clearly a commercial one for a bank to take, it is also crucial that banks do recognise the needs of their customers and the communities they serve, before simply shutting their doors –  and their customers out.”

Notes to editors

The 2,868 bank branch closure figure consists of closed branches since 2015, as well as branches that are scheduled to close in 2018. As such, individual bank closure stats and regional closure stats also include scheduled closures for 2018.

Which? collected bank branch closure data by tracking announcements and contacted banks to confirm our figures. Barclays was the only bank that did not confirm their data, so we have included our unconfirmed figures, which we sent them.

Which? has created a tool to help people find out if their local bank branch has closed in 2018. The tool can be embedded to online content using the code at the bottom of this email.

Which? has created a map of bank branch closures across the UK that shows closures per bank and per year. This map can be embedded into content by using the code at the bottom of this email.

The following banks have closed (or are due to close) the following amounts: Bank of Scotland 87, Barclays 243, Barnsley Building Society 6, Chelsea Building Society 6, Clydesdale 60, Co-Operative Bank 154, Danske 2, Halifax 55, HSBC 440, Lloyds 366, Nationwide 19, Natwest 638, Norwich & Peterborough 33, RBS 350, Santander 169, Skipton 11, TSB 82, Ulster Bank 35, Yorkshire Bank 74, Yorkshire Building Society 38.

The following shows a breakdown of closures (or scheduled closures) per region: East 221, East Midlands 165, London 288, North East 81, North West 353, Northern Ireland 44, Scotland 368, South East 361, South West 327, Wales 200, West Midlands 208, Yorkshire and the Humber 252.

The actual number of average closures per month is 59.75 and this is calculated from the start of 2015 to the end of 2018 to include planned closures.

Responses from banks

Lloyds Group told Which? that they continue to invest in their branch network and are committed to maintaining their market share of branches, while ensuring that customers have a variety of ways to meet their banking needs, including mobile banking and through the Post Office. They also said that any decision to close a branch is driven by customers’ behaviour and that they are committed to maintaining a market share of 21%. Lloyds has also expanded its mobile branch service.

Nationwide told Which? it is investing in the network with £73 million spent last year and a further investment of £81 million this year through refurbishments and remodelling existing models. Nationwide said that the majority of changes across its branch network during the period specified has been to integrate branches in areas where two branches exist within very close proximity. Or it has acquired a brand new site and moved customers and staff to bigger premises.

Yorkshire Building Society merged with Barnsley, Chelsea and Norwich & Peterborough building societies between 2008 and 2011. The mergers resulted in multiple high street locations within the same town. Overall, they said the net number of places where customers can access face-to-face service on the high street under the Yorkshire brand has risen from 234 to 247, though the total number of branches and agencies has reduced. The group is  looking to further expand access to its high street network by opening additional agencies in towns and cities where it currently doesn’t have a presence.

In a June 2017 press release, announcing closures, Skipton Building Society said: “The Society remains committed to offering face-to-face customer service, and our branch network will continue to play a vital role in this. But we cannot use our members’ money to keep a branch open that is economically unsustainable due to insufficient community use. Instead we will reinvest the money we save from September back into our customer contact points. HSBC told us that it had announced early last year that it had completed its branch restructuring programme and has no current plans to close any additional branches.

HSBC told us the branch closures reflect a change in the way customers are banking, as customers choose to move more transactions away from branches and towards digital channels. Over the past five years, the number of customers using HSBC branches has fallen by almost 48%. 93% of customers’ contact with the bank is now completed via the telephone, internet or smartphone, and 97% of cash withdrawals are made via an ATM.

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