Our recent research has found that the major banks have closed over 1,000 branches since 2015. But what happens if you aren’t happy to bank online and your nearest branch is miles away?
Supermarket self-service machines. Online holiday bookings and internet shopping. It can sometimes seem that technology advances so quickly nowadays that you’ve barely got the hang of one thing before itself becomes outdated and replaced by something else.
Well, what about those people who value the human touch?
For years now, the newspapers have been filled with stories of banks closing huge swathes of its branch network as more and more of us use our smartphones, tablets or computers to do our banking instead.
We wanted to find out just what impact these closures have had. An investigation led by our money team found that the major banks have closed 1,046 branches since the beginning of 2015.
Sarah Coomber-Smith knows the pain of losing a local branch only too well:
‘Due to the closure of our local HSBC, we now have to travel 24 miles on a round-trip to our nearest branch. Paying in through the Post Office is just not what we expect from our bank because we cannot talk to anyone. Why don’t all the banks get together and have one building in each town where they either all have a desk or at the very least one day a week where THEY are open for THEIR long-suffering customers. This would cut their supposed overheads and create more customer satisfaction. It is a nightmare trying to ring our bank when there is a problem – it is just not good enough.’
Our findings are not all that surprising. The banks have been open enough to admit that closures are taking place with the change in the way the public access banking services – through the internet – playing a significant role in the declining numbers popping into their branch.
Indeed, HSBC told us that on average it had seen a 40% drop in footfall in the past five years. And in 2014, RBS said its most popular branch was the 7.01am Reading to London Paddington train, as commuters check their balance and transfer money all via their handset while they’re travelling on it.
But what about those who don’t want to carry out important transactions on their phone? How about those who value having a member of staff to discuss their finances? And what about local business who rely on their branch to pay in their takings every day?
As Nicholas Heins says:
‘Banks are providing a so-called service which suits them and their share holders, not what many of their customers need. Branches are moving further and further away from many customers – this particularly hits the elderly and small businesses. They say you can use post offices, but many of them are also closing. You try and speak to a local branch on the phone – it is all centralised and robotic, no such thing as a personal service nowadays and loyalty is not rewarded but has become a dirty word.’
While it’s understandable that banks are having to take a commercial decision over what branches are closed and which are given a stay of execution, surely they must make sure adequate services remain in place for those who do want the human touch and aren’t comfortable with online banking?
Do you think banks have been too hasty in cutting such a large number of branches, or is it an inevitable consequence of customers turning to online banking?