Bank branch closures: the grim reality

Over the past 20 years, I've visited more bank branches than I care to remember. I've even spent a week or so pursuing mobile banks in the wilds of Aberdeenshire and Cornwall as they've travelled from village to village providing banking services to isolated communities.

My pursuits have earned me the nickname the "bank branch spotter" but probably the "grim reaper" is a more appropriate title because when I turn up at a bank branch it usually only means one thing: it is about to shut and the community is up in arms about the devastation it is going to wreak on their high street.

I report the feelings of residents and local businesses but other than a little local public relations embarrassment for the bank concerned, I don't have a magic wand. Invariably, the bank has its wicked way and the branch closes.

Bank branch closures have become a feature of our dying high streets in recent years. Figures collated by pressure group the Campaign for Community Banking Services indicate that since the beginning of 1990, more than 8,000 bank branches have disappeared from our high streets – nearly halving the network.

And the closures show no signs of slowing. Indeed, some say we are on the cusp of a big ratcheting up of closure programmes among the big banks.

By the time September has been and gone, Barclays will have shut 53 branches this year while HSBC will have shut 46. And further Barclays' closures are expected as it looks to drive costs out of its retail network by automating many of the services currently provided by its excellent cashiers.

Royal Bank of Scotland, owner of NatWest, is currently in the middle of axing 100 branches, 73 of them NatWest. Only Lloyds Bank has relented from shutting branches, a result of a pledge made in February 2012 to keep its branches to around 1,300.That pledge ends in February next year and most banking analysts believe that Lloyds will then take an axe to its network.

The banks' own trade body, the British Bankers' Association (BBA), has also primed the public to expect more closures. In a recent report entitled "It's in your hands", it talks of a "revolution" in personal banking as more customers turn to internet banking and embrace mobile phone apps, contactless cards and text alerts.


Although the BBA says that the branch remains "integral" to banking in the 21st century, it predicts that branch networks will shrink as day-to-day branch usage continues to fall.

I'm no Luddite and welcome innovation in banking services.

I'm also an admirer of the improvements some of the banks have made to their key branches. Indeed, walking into the Barclays branch on Kensington High Street in London (close to where I work) is an absolute joy. I feel loved, the branch is welcoming, and staff can't do enough to help you. Whether this continues post-September – when Barclays replaces cashiers with automated services – remains to be seen, but I dearly hope so.

Yet we simply can't allow the banks to slash and burn their networks, especially in smaller rural communities where a closure often results in the only bank in town disappearing.When that happens - 1,200 communities have lost their last bank since 1990 – people go elsewhere to do their banking and shopping, with the result that local businesses suffer and often shut for good.

One suggestion, put forward by the Campaign for Community Banking Services, is for banks to agree to run shared branches in communities where it's not profitable enough for a bank to run a standalone branch. Shared branches operate successfully in the United States and there's no reason why they couldn't here in the UK.

So why aren't the big UK banks interested in pursuing such a sound idea? It's all to do with competition - they are worried "sharing" may somehow impinge on the integrity of their individual brands.

Such reasoning is crackers. Shared bank branches make great sense - after all 21% of people use a bank branch at least once a week.They should be part of the revolution currently sweeping through personal banking in the UK.

Jeff Prestridge is the personal finance editor of the Mail on Sunday. Email him at

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Jeff doesn't explain why anyone should need a Bank Branch. The demand for them must be falling like a stone. Some of the most efficient banks such as First Direct don't have a single branch. Post, Computer or Telephone access surely meet the needs of the vast majority of users. The ones who are not covered are basically the very old (even most 70 year olds are computer literate), and the mentally handicapped. Surely other solutions need to be found for them than a national network of branches.The only things that can't be done remotely are receiving or paying-in of cash. These can be covered by Post Offices (now found in supermarkets or the village shop) or by cash machines. We should welcome banks reducing unnecessary costs, which after all end up by being paid for by the customer.

I care for a 92 year old person who like me is not computer literate and could not possibly manage Banking On Line or risk the problems.Their only means is the cheque book or drawing cash from BANK . What happens if you have a querie? phone?? where you press this press that and in the end forget what you phoned for.
If technology keeps progressing at the rate it is - we will forget how to talk to people, its all being done by computer. Where is the "Personal Service"  ?
I appreciate people have busy lives, but as we get older we do not need the end to come quicker.

I am vision-impaired.
It has taken me over 8 minutes to sign in.
I have a signature card due to my vision inadequacies.
I cannot draw money out of a hole in the wall with this card.
If I want more than my local supermarket can hand back as cash, [£50] then I need a walk-in bank.
My nearest Co-Op bank ended up being the one in Exeter, several hours bus journey away from near Taunton, but the buses, every 2 hours during the mornings and one in the afternoon, were stopped.
When I became a pensioner, I needed a local bank. The Co-op bank lost me as a customer, which I had been since 1971.
I have been able to use decidedly the very best bank, 1st Direct, by telephone [nothing, absolutely nothing, is too much trouble] and by going into a  related local HSB to draw cash, with the staff kindly doing the paperwork. This, now, just accepts incoming payments.
Post offices do not cover all banks. They covered the Co-op but it was unsatisfactory; not the staff's fault. Signature cards were not catered for.
Does this mean that I have to get large sums out and keep them at home?