/ Money

Banks respond to our calls on branch closures

While responses from banks to our calls on bank branch closures represent a huge step forward, more needs to be done to secure the future of cash.

Earlier this month, our Chief Executive Anabel Hoult wrote to banks and building societies who are members of UK Finance’s Cash Action Group (CAG) asking them to commit to a pause on bank branch closures until alternative ways of accessing cash could be provided to communities impacted. 

In Anabel’s letter, she outlined concerns that any solutions announced and implemented by the Group to protect people’s ability to withdraw and deposit cash would be undermined by decisions taken by individual banks to progress with branch closure programmes. This followed from new analysis that found the rate of branch closures had increased significantly over the past year. 

Shockingly, we found a whopping 298 bank branches closed between June and August – an average of 99 per month, which is far above the 52 closures that have taken place per month in the previous six years, representing a 90% rise. Overall, 736 bank branches shut their doors this year, with another 220 already set to close in 2022. Since January 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches.

Win! How banks responded

We’ve now heard back from all the banks we wrote to, including Natalie Ceeney, Chair of the CAG, who responded to us on behalf of the Group. 

In her response, she confirmed the proposals agreed by members, announced last Wednesday, would be delivered to communities immediately and ahead of upcoming branch closures, and that in communities where bank branch closures have taken place over the last year, impact assessments have already been carried out by the Group, and solutions to enable access to cash delivered. 

These proposals will see LINK (the UK’s main ATM operator) tasked with conducting an independent review of every proposed bank branch and ATM closure, with the power to fill any gaps in cash provision to meet the community’s cash needs, by deploying a range of shared services funded by members such as ATMs, shared banking hubs, and enhanced Post Office services. Communities will also be able to request a review of their community’s cash needs by summer 2022.

Find out if your area will be receiving support here

Which? also wrote to banks that are not members of the CAG, asking them to provide detail on their upcoming branch closure programmes. The majority have since confirmed they will not be closing any further bank branches in 2022.

Find out what your bank said here.

Is this enough?

This reassurance from members of the CAG, coupled with the proposals announced by the Group last week, represents a huge step forward in the fight to protect cash.

However, while we’re hopeful that the services delivered by the Group will provide tangible support to communities at risk of losing access to cash, it is clearly important that the body is held to account for its commitments.

We feel strongly that the CAG solutions must provide sufficient access to cash when a bank branch or ATM closes, and the Impact Assessments undertaken ahead of closures must assess the full range of needs in a given area, giving everyone the opportunity to feedback, including vulnerable residents and those most likely to depend on cash. 

We intend to keep a close eye on how the CAG’s proposals work in practice, to make sure they deliver for consumers on the ground. But we also want your help, by telling us how the CAG is delivering for you in your areas, if you are one of the communities affected, or if you’re struggling to access cash, but haven’t received any support.

Legislation is urgently needed

While efforts from industry to support those of their customers who rely on cash are positive, and necessary – these voluntary initiatives do not negate the need for government action. Not least given that the Group does not represent the whole of the industry and firms outside of the group may continue to make decisions that could detrimentally impact local access to cash without any proposed alternative provisions to be put in place. 

Legislation promised by the Chancellor in March 2020 is still urgently needed, to give the proposals announced by the CAG the necessary level of regulatory oversight and to secure the long-term future of cash for those who depend on it – and we will be continuing to fight for this legislation in the New Year. 

Let us know in the comments if you’re worried your local community is at risk of losing access to cash?

Comments

My local HSBC closed in September. I then had to go a further 6 miles to a main branch to pay in cash from my club, into our ‘Community Account’ .
Then in December I took our cash to that branch only to find that the counter had been removed.
I was told that I could pay-in cheques using a machine, but for coins I would have to pay-in at a Post Office !
Then, to cap it all, I discover that they are levying monthly bank charges against Community Accounts !
Ours is a charity account, and we need all the cash we collect – not hand monthly accounts into HSBC’s coffers. This will affect all Community Accounts – charities, kids football clubs, scouts, guides, churches, etc. OUTRAGEOUS !
I will be leaving that bank asap.

You have my sympathy, Barry. A charity that I’m involved with banks with HSBC and our local branch closed about 8 years ago, as did the local Post Office. I was able to routinely spend the cash from donations after having paid money into the charity’s account online.

I hope that the government action that Which? has called for (see the introduction to this Conversation) will be forthcoming because the banks are making life very difficult for many people.

I know from friends and small local organisations that I belong to that charity treasurers are being driven mad by the changes the banks are making to the charging regime for charities, good causes, and sports and social clubs that previously enjoyed free routine banking [mainly in-payments and occasional withdrawals]. Having to change bank accounts is not straightforward for a membership organisation as various formal resolutions are required, copies of constitutions supplied, and full details provided of all members of the committee or executive body; it can take a long time and create a lot of work. One organisation I am connected with has been through HSBC, Lloyds and Barclays in the space of the last two years and the treasurer has now had enough and is handing over to someone else.

I used to do the same as Wavechange and convert cash received into an on-line payment and then spend the cash myself, but I rarely go into shops at the moment so have about a kilo of coins to count out, bag up and take in to my bank which luckily still provides a proper counter service.

I presume the banks consider these moves do no damage to their reputations. It looks like they are making themselves redundant for the ordinary solvent citizen. I suppose they have evaluated that contingency and are comfortable with it.

Our charity is losing a very good treasurer because of the hassles caused closure of the HSBC bank in Chesham several years ago.

Well, if Chesham can’t support a decent bank then we’re all doomed.

It’s the middle-sized towns that are really being ravaged now – villages, small suburbs and shopping parades lost their banks in the first two-fingered wave.

Our society was formed in 1969 and banked with Midland and HSBC since then. The closure of the Chesham branch was very inconvenient. We have stayed with HSBC because most of our members are in or close to a town with an HSBC branch.

We need action from government to do more to support the citizens of this country, John. Watching the PM address the CBI I have wondered if the government feel that serving the wishes of business is their main role.

There seem to be 3 banks, post offices, numerous ATMs in Chesham and, if it has not closed, an HSBC branch a couple of miles away in Amersham.

The HSBC branch in Chesham has closed, as I said. That is what matters to our treasurer.

The HSBC branch in Sycamore Road Amersham is 2.6 miles from Chesham. Just how close should branches be together?

She is very well aware where banks are, Malcolm, and she will be retiring as our treasurer. Loss of existing services can be a nuisance even if the reasons are not obvious.

I was simply posting relevant information that may not have been apparent from the comments.

Given the known reasons for bank branch closures it does not seem unexpected that when branches are 2.6 miles apart one should be closed. Communications between Chesham and Amersham are good.

The question I posed was …… just how close together should we expect branches of the same bank to be? We need to be realistic when arguments are to be made for preserving branches. I hope banking hubs will be developed to address the problems many face.

I am sorry you have lost your treasurer.

She no longer drives because turning round exacerbates a painful neck or spine condition, as does walking more than a few miles.

Shared banking resources should have been in place before the widespread and uncoordinated closure of bank branches, resulting in around half of the branches that were present in 2015. So far, all that has happened is the well reported pilot schemes. With coordination the banks could have saved money by investing in shared branches rather than keeping their own underused ones open.

It has been explained before, that is not “all that has happened”. Most of the banks arranged with the 11500 post offices to offer their customers – personal and business – the most used basic banking services.

We do need banking hubs, as clearly individual bank branches are unlikely to be reinstated, so perhaps we could pursue that option. There are other options also worth pursuing. We are where we are and need to progress from here.

I am surprised that a major bank like HSBC cannot justify maintaining a branch in a town like Chesham [population c. 30,000 plus a hinterland]. Amersham has half Chesham’s population so it would seem that the branch there could be even less viable and might not survive for long. It is not necessary for every branch to be open six days a week from 9 am to 5 pm. The two HSBC branches at Chesham and Amersham could have been run jointly under one personnel complement.

I think it’s not just a question of how close branches should be but of what best serves the public.

According to https://www.citypopulation.de/en/uk/southeastengland/buckinghamshire/E35001417__amersham/
Amersham has a slightly higher population than Chesham.

We can make a “service” case for every bank branch to stay open but, given that we are using bank branches less and less, this is not a reasonable expectation. I agree that serving the customer is important, but while maintaining branch viability; which is where banking hubs seem to fit in under-used areas.

Banks do not all have to be profitable any more than running a particular bus route. It is the overall profitability that matters. Thanks to different interchange fees, non-profitable ATMs provide many communities with cash. That has been achieved by the joint efforts of the PSR and LINK. It appears that LINK is to have a role in organising shared banking. That should have been in place before extensive branch closures.

I believe that bank branches could take on the role of supporting their customers in various ways. Few people have any training before they first use online banking. Banks need to be able to help those who have been scammed and I don’t believe that telephone support is enough.

Many bus routes are not profitable but are subsidised by the taxpayer. I’d prefer not to see banks subsidised in that way.

As banks do not charge many customers who use their branch then I’d suggest it is lack of use rather than ‘profitability’ that is the decisive factor. In the example being used, when towns are just around 2 miles apart, I think it quite reasonable for just one to retain the HSBC branch, particularly when each has other banks.

Rather than continually looking backwards I’d hope we can look to how best to organise bank access for the future. Hopefully Which? will contribute to this.

Our town has a population of around 30k and there are branches of Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, NatWest, Santander, TSB, Virgin Money and various building societies, but not Nationwide. There are also plenty of ATMs.

It is interesting to think how so many bank branches came to be established in the first place in the days before workers were paid by bank credit, before pensions and benefits were paid into bank accounts, and when very few people had a cheque book. I remain of the opinion that the banks have been allowed to take advantage of their collective monopoly position knowing that virtually every citizen with an income has to have a bank account.

I accept it would not be profitable for every small town to have a full set of bank branches using current economics — where public service counts for nothing — but I don’t doubt the industry could afford it.

Our utility companies are regulated and I don’t know of any customers who have been told that their electricity, gas or water supply will be removed because it is not profitable. A collective monopoly position sums it up nicely, John. We need better regulation of banks so that they do provide their customers with an adequate public service.

I don’t know what shared banking services will provide but that needs to be determined by the needs of customers.

Trying to retain existing bank branches until an acceptable alternative is in place is common sense and certainly not looking backwards.

The CACP report that I have referenced before describes the bank hubs. These were supported by both banks and consumer groups so there will, I expect, be plenty of opportunity for collective agreement before they are, hopefully, rolled out. Is this not a good solution against the backdrop of many customers no longer using individual branches?

I think at the latest count 26 energy companies have gone out of business recently. Water is a local monopoly for domestic customers.

As I keep saying, alternative solutions must be in place before existing services are withdrawn. From the introduction:

In her response, she [Natalie Ceeney] confirmed the proposals agreed by members, announced last Wednesday, would be delivered to communities immediately and ahead of upcoming branch closures, and that in communities where bank branch closures have taken place over the last year, impact assessments have already been carried out by the Group, and solutions to enable access to cash delivered.

I am cautiously optimistic but this could have been done five or ten years ago, before areas were left without a single bank.

Personal planning can avoid overdrafts or the car running out of fuel but in some parts of the country there are now no banks in operation. Yet where I live we are well supplied with bank branches.

Graham Sturdy says:
19 January 2022

Our Church has an account with CAF Bank which is administered through HSBC. Charges are now £8pm and I have to drive to Harpenden (c 10 miles) to pay in. I would recommend CAF for an online account but I guess it still comes down to the charges and the distance to the nearest branch of HSBC. We handle less cash now that so many members give online as to those who rent our hall and tend to pay in once a month or so which reduces travel.