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