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?