/ Money

Does your local area have adequate banking services?

Closed-down bank branch

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seem that technology advances so quickly nowadays that you’ve barely got the hang of one thing before itself becomes outdated and replaced by something else.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?

Branch closures

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.’

Online banking

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?

Comments
Member

I suggest that the banks get together and provide a shared banking service.

Apart from visiting my bank a couple of times to set up a large payment, the only times I have visited my bank in the past year have been to deposit cheques, sometimes just posting them through the letterbox. I would be happy to use an ATM to do this if the facility was provided. I do appreciate that some people want to keep their bank branch and my branch is usually busy when I have been into it or walked past.

Years ago we had a shared branch at the university campus where I worked and that was very popular.

Member

The Post Office offer basic services to customers of most of the major banks. Encouraging customers to use them for deposits, withdrawals and so on not only helps the banking customers but also keeps the post offices viable in less commercially-attractive areas.

The Nationwide is a highly rated building society/bank, mutual, lots of branches that have been maintained. So if you don’t like what your existing bank is doing, open an account with them. It is inevitable that as fewer customers use branches it will be uneconomic to keep so many open.

Member

As Malcolm says, the Post Office provides basic services. Here are the details: http://www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-banking-services Our village Post Office is open daily and on Saturday mornings. I know that some village halls operate a Post Office service at least once a week.

Member
Patricia Harrill says:
24 December 2016

I do bank with Nationwide, but not only have they closed the branch in the nearest town (6 miles), but when they bought out another building society in the town, they closed that branch too!

Member
Stuart L says:
25 December 2016

Nationwide took over the Derbyshire Building Society – a local society that had a branch in each large suburb and village, and in every town. Nationwide has closed all but two them – even leaving towns like Belper (the third largest and fastest growing town in Derbyshire) and Bakewell without access – although both do still have a couple of banks. Now we have to travel six miles to our nearest branch. Yes, internet banking and the ‘hole in the wall’ does obviate some need for branches, but when there is a problem or you need to pay in – especially coins – a long journey is inevitable. The banks (AND Building Societies) MUST stop and think again. Shared facilities, part-time branches in stores, mobile banks should all be on the agenda.

Member

The fun part of this is really how you cost matters out to prove something is unprofitable.

Why do people not go into shops/banks so much? Because the staff are either poor in knowledge or charm, or they do not have any power to do anything, or are understaffed.

We went to a local Lloyds Branch to add a name to an acount. We were told that only one person could do that and she was away, could we come back later in the week. Alternatively we could do it on-line. Well that proved to be a lie there is no on-line facility.

As to adding the name to an account. Opened 40 years near enough with one signatory and adding a spouse. A more straightforward case it would be hard to conjure up.

So de-skill the staff and then moan that no one comes in. There is no reason to go in. I believe of course that at some stage there will be a major outage and cash and cheques will be/ or have been the fail-safe for the economy.

I suppose most of you have read this week how Microsoft has been knocking people and businesses off-line with a duff forced up-grade. Think how much worse it might have been if some one deliberately ramped up a botched up-date.

Member

“Why do people not go into shops/banks so much? Because the staff are either poor in knowledge or charm, or they do not have any power to do anything, or are understaffed.” Maybe for some, but I just find online banking more convenient. I have not had any problem with banks, though it was a bit of a nuisance when branches used to close at 15.30.

Member

I rest my case. A retired person believes that on-line banking is better than humans who are articualte, intelligent, and well-trained who could pretty much deal with any service the Bank offered.

Now lets talk about the people who avoided loads of Bank charges because the staff took them in hand and trained them to be more responsible. There was always a hardcore of less than 5% who one would get rid of as they were simply not interested.

I make a distinction here about the elderly and the slightly slow where we could graduate the approach so they could still feel in control. Try to get a computer with that finesse.

I fear for these people in the future.

Member
Chris says:
19 December 2016

Some months ago I went into my local branch and saw a notice saying it would be closing. There were two men in suits talking and they happened to be Lloyds employees involved in the closure. When I asked them why it was closing they said it was because it was not ‘busy’ enough. Poo.
This branch was about a mile from the city centre (Coventry) and as there was parking (if you were lucky) close by it was always busy. Ok, you can do a lot of banking on the internet these days, but sometimes you need to be able to speak to a living being, or you may need to deposit cash. It was always a busy branch.
Role on three months and after the closure of the branch I needed to talk to someone about various things so I went to my high street branch – you know , the big grand building with pillars and arches and lovely mouldings. There is a row of 5 customer stations at the ‘enquiries’ point – ONE of which was manned , the others being vacant. I was fourth in the queue and I stood there for 20 minutes. Then another staff member came so the queue began to decrease – but I still had to wait another 15 minutes. I discussed what I wanted too and then said to the lady that I would like to speak to a Manager, as I wished to complain about the waiting. So off she went to find someone, only to return after 5 minutes to say there was no-one available with whom I could talk to. I was disgusted. I would have closed my accounts with Lloyds if I felt that I would get any better service anywhere else. Sadly, I don’t think I would. It seems to me that most banks want to reduce branches and thus staff. Role on another 10 years and I think most of them will have closed.

Member
Janet Foster says:
20 December 2016

Far too many banks have closed branches. There was a branch of my mother’s bank about a quarter of a mile away from her last home, and she was just able to walk there and back which provided her with the little bit of exercise she did with her shopping trolley. In addition, it was an invaluable service in more ways than supplying banking assistance as one of the women who manned the counter took to keeping an eye on mum and when I went to the bank with mum one day, this staff member said she didn’t think mum was eating enough because she was losing weight. She took my phone numbers (I lived 200 miles away at the time) and said she would ring me if she became really concerned. Luckily, it didn’t quite come to that, but this goes to show how valuable banks and other businesses regularly used by customers, are. It seems that if a bank is fined for misdemeanours, such as PPI mis-selling, the knee-jerk reaction is to shut branches/cut branch staff, almost out of spite, it appears. Perhaps a better way could be found to “fine” banks for misbehaviour of a suspicious nature, like targeting those higher up who make the decisions leading to financial wrongdoings. Generally, those higher up the ladder get to keep their jobs and pensions, but in doing this the big banks are cutting off their noses to spite their faces because customers will find somewhere else to go instead and banks will lose out.

Member
Jacqueline Webb says:
24 December 2016

HSBC have closed our local branch in Burnham on Sea, this town is predominantly small businesses and retired people. Banks could not care a less about service or its customers.

Member
Bob P says:
24 December 2016

I will never do my banking transactions on line because I do not believe there systems are safe to handle my hard earned money , Silly you say well they can hack into the government so our on line is just a 2 second job . With all the banks closing so it has all got to be done on line is there want not there customers. I cannot see why all the top banks cannot all share a building & have staff that can perhaps work & understand two or more banks, the public can walk up to the desk providing your banks services so we can still change a cheque for cash if needed or help in any queries we have. Surly this way it would cost less by using one building, saving on staffing, still stay on the high streets avoiding businesses / general public / Pensioners travelling miles with cash to be safely got or deposited. Older people can sort out there problems as not all have access to on line banking or like me never would .
Please cannot Which try to get this system set up then everyone will be happy. Hard earned cash be withdrawn safely instead of throwing it away to these on line hackers who will only get smarter as everyone has no other way to handle there affairs.

Member
Diane lyne says:
25 December 2016

I am very upset at the closure of my local Nat west , I’m not happy to do online banking . I’m a senior and have been with nat west for forty odd years . I’m not happy since I’m also court of protection for my parents finances who both have dementia . This closure is going to make life doubly difficult for me , I prefer the human touch . Please keep Fleetwood nat west open and recind the decision to close it …

Member
M.J.Challis says:
26 December 2016

It always seem to be the same “excuse” – The Branch Is Not Busy Enough” – and yet when I go to the ATM which has been kept outside the NatWest bank there usually is a queue – sometimes two people and sometimes 7 (which is the most so far) but in talking to people in the queue not many seem to understand an ATM. One elderly woman in front of me apologised for keeping me waiting and then asked me for some help. She needed to transfer from one account to another but I said I dont want to read the screen as it is your private business but she the said “Please help me as I dont understand what is being asked on screen” so I did my best with my back turned and she read the screen. Fortunately it a type of transaction I do anyway so I was able to relate to her what buttons to press etc. Well anyway we got there in the end but her comment on leaving was the she cant get to a branch open (about 20 miles round trip) as cant drive and the buses are not that regular. It makes me shudder to think that instead of me behind her it could have been someone who or could have “ripped her off”.

Member
Alan Graham says:
27 December 2016

If not already too late, it may be necessary to legislate in the public interest . Putting them all together under one roof does seem to be a sensible solution though, and shouldn’t be much beyond their collective wit to organise. After all they’ve already worked out how to redistribute transactions from each other’s ATMs. Where I live in the Yorkshire Dales we’ve seen at first hand what happens when all the banks are withdrawn and then the only ATM fails for days on end at the last surviving location. Paying in at Post Offices is all very well if you can find one of them open as well, but adds delays to the transaction.

Member

In the village I live this year the only remaining bank branch closed however there is the Post Office. There are many retired people who live in the village I wouldn’t like to say how like they are to switch to online banking. If I need to visit a branch of the bank I go to the branch nearest to the one where I work. The staff are trying to persuade customers to use online services but really they are shooting themselves in the foot as the bank may could decide it isn’t viable to keep the branch open. I know some shops in London only accept card payments to save staff having to go to a bank.

Member

Seems we’re going full circle here: who remebers National Girobank? Yes, banking at the Post Office counter! We had an account with them, but they got taken over by Alliance & Leicester: could still do our banking at the Post Office though – but not after A & L got taken over by Santander. Then the nearest branch was either cross-city by car 6miles, or into city by bus, 8 miles. And now the latter is yet another cafe. And in meantime pretty well every bank in SW Edinburgh has closed.
I only found out about being able to withdraw money at Post Offices while on a recent trip to Mull, where all the ATMs were out of order.

Member
Mrs. J. Downs says:
7 January 2017

My local Barclays here in Bath recently combined all its branches into one at the bottom of town at the opposite end of town to our local branch. When I complained how difficult this made bank visits the response was ” Oh but it’s so nice we are all together now”. So much for customer care.