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Do you want a bank branch on the high street?

Bank branch closed

Every week last year, three high street bank branches closed. And the trend doesn’t seem to be abating. Still, with online banking continuing to surge, how many of us still want to visit a high street branch?

The big name banks (Santander, Barclays, HBOS, Northern Rock, RBS and NatWest) closed 187 high street branches in 2010, according to the British Bankers’ Association. That’s three shutting up shop every week. And the decline’s not slowing.

We’ve been asking what your perfect bank would look like, as the Independent Commission on Banking will soon make its banking reform recommendations. The wish lists are still coming, but in an early snapshot, commenter Dave D’s first, and perhaps most important, want is simply ‘plenty of branches to call into, with enough staff to see someone in a reasonable time’.

Who actually visits their bank?

Personally, I rarely visit my bank branch. I drop in online – opening the door to my internet bank account by jumping through a few security hoops. That’s not to say I never go in to my high street bank, and maybe I should do so more often.

So, when do I visit my bank? When I need:

1. To put a cheque in – a need that’s declining, despite being saved from destruction.
2. To let them know I’m going on holiday, to ensure my debit card isn’t blocked.
3. To add a new product to my account, such as contents insurance.
4. To grill them about my rubbish interest rates on my savings account.

I could very easily do many of these things online or over the phone – but it’s nice dealing with people face-to-face. I expect most of us would like the option of a branch, and if we had to choose, I expect we’d put up with long queues rather than having no branch at all.

Internet access isn’t universal

We’re not all connected to the internet, nor is everyone comfortable with banking online. A recent Which? Money report found that quite a few banks’ online security isn’t up to scratch, so it’d be wrong to say that people are mad to mistrust banking with a mouse.

Only one in three over-65s use internet banking, compared to two thirds aged 25-44 according to the Office for National Statistics. So there are still a bunch left out when branches close – should they be forced to go online?

Moreover, closures seem to be in rural areas. This is down to them being used less than those in cities or towns, but this has a knock on effect. Rural areas often don’t have the best broadband, and rural customers will be left travelling miles to get to their nearest branch.

Where’s the opposition?

So why aren’t people kicking up about branch closures? Apparently they are, but banks aren’t listening. ‘They give 12 weeks’ notice and then they just shut the bank. They have become totally intransigent’, says the Campaign for Community Banking Services‘ Derek French.

However, there is hope out there. Not all banks are closing branches. There are new players on the market intent on opening up their own outlets, like Metro Bank and Tesco. Our money editor James Daley shares his view:

‘If Tesco can bring the supermarket model to high street banking then that will be very positive. Supermarkets have to fight very hard for customer loyalty and it can only be a good thing to see a bank fighting hard to keep us happy, rather than merely seeing what they can get away with.’

Here’s hoping. Would you miss your bank branch if it closed, or are you happy banking online?

If your high street bank branch closed, how much would it impact you?

A lot (41%, 411 Votes)

A little (36%, 367 Votes)

Not at all (23%, 232 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,010

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pickle says:
24 August 2011

My High street branch is VITAL. Internet banking is all very well, but has its snags – what if my internet service goes down – what if my computer packs up – what if I have a power cut?

I prefer to see the bank staff face to face and make sure my transactions are dealt with swiftly and any complications sorted out straight away.

IrvSwerve says:
25 August 2011

What if the world comes to an end!

I use First Direct – no High Street branches – excellent service – but there has to be at least one local bank with a branch which accepts First Direct physical transactions. At the moment my shopping centre has three different bank branches – If there was only one – I’d consider moving my entire account to that bank purely to stop closure –

There are hardly any companies employing many people nowadays – what a strange unhealthy insular world it will be – computing at home and work for communication – shopping without communicating with anyone – Not a world I want to live in.

I moved my current account to First Direct as a result of poor service from local branch staff. Service has been very good with only one serious error which was promptly acknowledged and corrected. Distance banking can mean more human discretion when needed – not less.

My previous experience with branch staff has since been confirmed when dealing with savings accounts. They appear to have little training beyond acting as an extension to their computer and no-one to refer matters to if more is needed.

Their typical reaction when something extra is required has been to repeat the dismissive expression “OK” regardless whether matters are so – even in one case from a branch manager when I was sent an acknowledgement for a deposit that was stated to be £36k less than the amount actually deposited.

As a bank customer with experience of both branch and distance banking, I object to paying for unnecessary people and premises. Let’s work on a machine for replacing both.

Thanks for the response Patrick

Retain some choice by all means but the need for it may well be expensively over-presumed.

I am old enough to remeber the introduction of ATMs in the 1970. How many since-redundant bank clerks swore on their quill pens that customers would never trust a machine to issue cash?

The focus should be on the advantages of change – not fear of it. To use the example of ATMs again, I remember how difficult it was to contact anyone on a Friday because so many office-workers were away from their desks and in a queue at the bank trying to withdraw cash for the weekend.

IrvSwerve says:
25 August 2011

If, once a year I venture into my local branch because I have unusually received a cheque,the only other customers are local traders paying in wads of cash at the end of the working day.
Be interested to know what they do when their branches close.

I use 2 separate High Street banks and do most of my day to day banking on line but there has been a problem (caused by my ex partner) with both banks, ie LLoydsTSB and Barclays which necessitated changing accounts and moving money. Both the branches supported me through a very tough time and were extremely helpful, I couldn’t have managed without them, the thought of having to queue on the phone and talk to Customer Services would quite honestly horrify me.
Both these branches are out of Town, they know me by name and I use them when ever I need too and long may they be there.
Incidentally neither of the branches I use are the actual account holding branch which I think compounds how excellent LloydsTSB and Barclays branch service is.

After being seduced by an enticing savings rate which went along with the current account, I left my high street branch for distance banking but am now back in the high street because of the excellent service I receive from people I can talk to face to face. The personal banking is first class and as I have EPA for my brother and run his finances as well as my own, I find it invaluable. I may be slightly biased as I only live 2 minutes walk from my bank but I would say, long live the high street bank and long live the cheque! I would not call myself a luddite but I use them both and find local banking quicker and much more straighforward than any other method..

When my wife and I moved to the town in 1975, Nationwide (ex Cooperative) Building Society had a full branch. After some years that was close and relaced with an agency, but did cater for most of our needs.
2 years ago the agency was closed and we were informed in writing that it would be replaced as soon as possible. After 2 years had passed I wrote asking when we were going to get our new agancy.
After several exchanges of emails I was told that it was not economic to open another one.
So much for the mutuality of building societies, supposedly owned by the members – no consultation and didn’t even bother to tell us they’d changed their mind until I chased them. There are now no building societies in Ledbury, which has a town population of about 10,000, plus allthe surrounding villages and rural areas.
A good opportunity for a forward looking Society.

Eric G. Knowles says:
26 August 2011

I bank with 1st Direct and have had excellent service for many years. One or two mistakes have been made but they have been corrected quickly and courteously. I frequently receive payment by cheque and need to be able to physically submit it. Now that the local branch of HSBC has closed I have to travel to make a payment and it is very inconvenient. I am having to seriously consider changing to another bank that has a local branch. If they had provided a secure post box with the “hole-in-the-wall” this would not be a consideration.

Duffo says:
27 August 2011

High Street bank branches are a valuable community asset. In my opinion, the ability to talk to someone face to face is preferable to internet access. The long wait that I often axperience at my local branch is offset by the personal touch lacking otherwise.

BobWal says:
28 August 2011

My bank (Santander) is one I rarely choose to visit. I find it quite irritating when with an online account that its necessary for me to visit the branch in person particularly when the branch network seems to be located in shopping centres where its usuall costly to travel or park unless you have another reason for going.I do sometimes visit a branch if I happen to be going that way to deposit a cheque but that usually means using the cash machine not the branch.

I did once try to deposit a cheque at the counter, seeing two staff standing there with no customers. The cashier treated me like an idiot. “You do reaslise that you can use the machines to do this sir?”, but this moment passed as he tried to sell me other products I did not want. No doubt Santander have increased the queue since then by sacking one of them.

IrvSwerve says:
28 August 2011

Reminds me of the my efforts of opening a Cash ISA with Santander this April. This for some reason could not be done on-line but had to be in-person. It involved a Transfer from another provider aswell as in internal transfer from another Santander account. The designer of the forms had not envisaged this scenario so that it took two weeks of me liasing between the branch and the Head Office to sort it out .It was not helped that some of the forms were lost in Transmission as they are not physically sent.
It was sorted out in the end and the interest back-dated. I must say that the branch staff were very willing just not very capable. Easier to have everything on-line.

Yes, I’d miss my bank, mainly for paying in cheques, but also for sorting out ISA’s every April and keeping my savings in accounts that pay a decent interest rate. They are friendly, I know them and they give good advice.
I would also miss the Halifax, not because I have any great affection for them, but because I manage a relative’s finances (Power of Attorney) and they are forever suspending her online account, so a showdown at the local branch is required to get online access again! If you use a different computer or a different ISP, they won’t let you access the account. Really handy when you are away from home using mobile broadband and the nursing home fees need paying! Don’t change your home phone and broadband provider either.

Mikhail says:
30 August 2011

Oh for goodness sake most of you would choose a higher interest rate on your savings instead of having 100s of local branches! Bla bla bla… Personal touch, face to face, haven’t you noticed a small device called – computer on the desks of all these friendly bankers!? I’m sorry to say, but all information are actually coming from that magic box and I don’t need anyone to read it to me and get paid for that!

Sorry grandma & pa I know bank is another place for socialising but it shouldn’t be that way.

In other countries one could deposit a cheque electronically via a phone app or scanning.

Not everyone wants the same out of life, or has the same priorities.

Mikhail says:
7 September 2011

@wavechange banks are there to serve our FINANCIAL needs. I only moved to first direct because I couldn’t stand those idiots talking about weather despite the queue behind them. It is very sad to use bank staff, which can’t avoid talking with you to fill up emptiness of your life, but I can’t see why other people have to suffer because of that.

Milkhail – Banks are primarily there to make a PROFIT for the Bank and it’s shareholders To do so they offer a service just like any shop. In addition they gamble with the profits and deposits on stocks and shares and mortgages to make more profits – . The reason for the credit crunch was because the Banks loaned money to people who couldn’t pay it back. But the world decided they were too big to go bankrupt. Except for this they are no different from a grocery store. They are there to make a profit for the owner not the customer.

I use First Direct because I find it far far more convenient to use than any other bank

I collect donations for our dog charity – Most donators happily pay CASH – often in coins (convenient way for them to get rid of them and feel good all at the same time). I’m happy to accept them – it amounts to quite a few thousands a year – First Direct do not deal in coin – So at the moment I can deposit in the nearby HSBC Bank I would not like it if all banks removed branches.

I am involved with a charity and often arrive home with around £200 in cash. Thankfully this is mostly in notes and £1 or £2 coins these days. I pay in the takings online and keep the cash. Apart from when I’m away on holiday I rarely visit a cash dispenser between Easter and the end of October. The village shop is quite happy to take change and if I offer 17 x 20p coins for a pint of beer the landlord of my local pub puts it in the till without checking the amount.

This is one of the useful features of doing some voluntary work. I ended up with over £200 in cash last weekend and I have paid in the nett sales amount on-line; I need the notes to pay a tradesman tomorrow for some work on the house; I can always offload coins on my hairdresser and market traders; and the remaining £2, £1 and 50p coins will roll forward as the float for the next event. Little coins go in my Christmas money box.

As from December 2014 there will be no high street banks in Lee-on-the-Solent, We have been informed to use the Post Office. This is not a good idea in a retirement area where some elderly do not have internet banking and they will have to travel to a main bank in Gosport or Fareham for more detailed banking. The banks forget that some people do need a local branch and to close our last remaining bank shows that the banks are only interested in big money making and the ordinary customer is not valued.

I fully understand those who think High Street banks are unnecessary as almost everything can be done online and cash can be obtained from an ATM (so long as they exist and are free), and I am one of those to blame for doing most of my banking and purchases online. However, like Richard said, there are many of us who receive cash and cheques which we need to pay into our accounts. I chair a disability charity and know that many of our members are now severely discriminated against by having no access to a bank or building society. The last bank in my High Street closed early this year and my attempts to find out what alternatives were available were initially hampered by my bank having no forwarding address or telephone number, the nearest regional office not replying to a letter and a letter sent to the head office, was returned by the Post Office as ‘addressee gone away’. I found out that I am meant to go to my nearest post office to pay in cash and cheques via Giro. As I am disabled and my nearest post office is also now too far away, I am expected to ask someone to do this for me and I am supposed to give them my bank card and PIN number!
None of the remaining bank branches within driving distance have Blue Badge or other parking within a walking distance so all bank branches are now inaccessible for me. It seems crazy but I have to wait until I go on holiday to Cornwall where I can sometime park within walking distance of a branch that has not yet closed before paying cheques and cash in. Whilst I applaud the Which? campaign about ATM’s, they are missing the more serious issue of inability to pay money in that disadvantages most disabled people and the elderly, a large but overlooked sector of the community.

Many years ago I was able to pay in cash and cheques at an ATM. They were placed in an envelope and once the machine was serviced and the envelopes opened the cash was credited to your account and cheques handled in the normal way. Most large supermarkets have self-service machines capable of taking notes and coins. This could be done before the last remaining bank in an area was closed, but it requires a little forethought.

The banks could work together and share a branch. I seem to be one of the few contributors here who has actually used this sort of service, but it was very popular on the university campus where I worked.

Perhaps if those in charge of the banks were disabled themselves they might realise that they have a duty to serve the needs of all their customers.

I have used the paying-in facility at an ATM in the past but as machines were ‘upgraded’ this function was removed or the envelope supply and deposit tray were sealed up.. Perhaps there were security concerns.

Years ago I also frequently paid cheques in by post and I think this facility is still available. For the last few years I have been within walking distance of my BS branch so it is easy to call in.

I think any town with a population of 5,000 or more should have one bank at least, 10,000 should have two, and so on. Even towns of 25,000 now are down to just one or two banks. Banks should make some of their other services more attractive in order to appeal to more users; they have allowed other traders to take over the market for loans, insurance, holiday money, and savings accounts.

I for one, do not think high street banking facilities are unnecessary. I just recognise that the large reduction in users, due to the rise in online banking, has made so many branches non-viable. I have argued that communities should still be served with banking but in a pragmatic way. The post office agreed with all banks to provide main banking services ( and, as has been pointed out by others, often with longer and more convenient opening times). I’ve also, with others, suggested retaining a bank branch representing several banks under one roof in a substantial community.

The questions to be answered, perhaps, as with ATMs, are how small a community must be to qualify for banking facilities and how far from smaller communities should we expect to go to find a bank or an ATM. Clearly they cannot be within walking distance of everyone.

I am surprised that you cannot find anywhere to park with a Blue Badge; providing you do not create an obstruction you can usually park on double yellow lines.

I am not sure TSB customers would agree your first para Malcolm in view of recent events.

My local bank branch closed its doors for the last time this week and I now have to travel 17 miles to pay in a small cheque received in the post.

The ATM in the village ran out of cash last week but thankfully the one in the local store was still operative and free to use.

Why not post your small cheque to your bank, Beryl? Even first class post will be cheaper than a long drive and only take one day longer.

Thanks John, I will seriously consider doing that. I normally pay my credit card bill by post but that unfortunately doesn’t include paying in cheques as this is a separate issue.

I know that many people don’t like direct debit but I’ve paid my credit card and other bills by DD for years and have not had a single problem.