/ 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.

Brian wallace says:
9 February 2022

HSBC in Sittingbourne is now digital only. If you want to pay coins and bank notes into an account, you have make separate arrangement to use the Post Office or travel to another branch which still accept coins and bank notes.
Another example of the erosion services offered by banks.

Julia Coleman says:
9 February 2022

I’m not really worried. I rarely use cash and there are 3 free ATMs plus a post office within 5 mins walk, and a full set of high street banks 10 mins walk away in the next town. Plus there’s always the cashback option in pubs and shops.

Marie duQuesnay says:
9 February 2022

You are a very lucky person. My nearest ATM is a half hour drive away, the nearest branch of my bank (Co-Op) about 2 hours’ drive away.
Bank branches and ATMs are not just about cash. I had a problem with my credit card and was repeatedly told by online banking to take it to the nearest ATM to unblock it which I think is an unreasonable expectation Given the distance. Also, I have been isolating for 2 years due to immune problems, and I’m not putting myself at risk on a busy high street after being careful up to now. The notion of public service is totally absent from banking.

Mrs. Patricia K. Ames says:
9 February 2022

My local Natwest bank closed in Royston High Street despite there always being many customers every time I visited. It always seemed so very busy, but due to its closure I now have to make a 20 mile round trip to visit another branch. I really must change my bank but after fifty years of reliable service from them I am reluctant to do so.

judith schwartz says:
9 February 2022

it is so frustrating to be so dependent on the bank!!! maybe new businesses can pop up in each area-open for 24 hours with strong security-When banks will have competition they”ll come running for our custom. Is there anyone out there ready to help me invest in this venture? Nowadays its not difficult to find employees any hour of day or night….WHICH has my email if anyone wants to help me serve the public….a place where cash is available 24 hrs ….

Fiona Halstead says:
9 February 2022

An account I had with Barclays was made dormant even though I had followed their recommended steps to keep it open. Countless letters to head Office + accessing the complaints procedure did not produce any results. I visited my local branch of Barclays in Newton Abbot where I (luckily) got a very experienced member of staff to listen to my story. She got my money back for me and her manager re-forwarded my complaint, giving me a reference number etc. Nothing ever came of this, and as I had got my money back after 3 months + I left it.
What on earth would I have done if there had not been a local branch with experienced staff?

I agree entirely. It is not just access to cash that is important. We need access to experienced and knowledgable staff when problems arise or when thinking of moving some of our money around, e,g, from a current account to a stocks and shares account. Post Offices will not be able to provide this, assuming we have a Post Office of course. Phone calls and letters to the banks do not work, as highlighted above by Fiona Halstead, and even if they do, the process is lengthy, time-consuming, and therefore grossly inefficient.
I recently opened a new current account in the only branch left in the town where I live. It was easy to do, and I still have access to bank staff for as long as this branch lasts. The previous bank, which has now closed their local branch, tried to persuade me to ‘switch’. I declined for two reasons: 1) something was bound to go wrong, and 2) if I have a problem in another town one day hopefully one of the three (I already had two accounts) will still exist and be able to help. Taken to its logical extreme, I should really open an account with every known bank. But I’d probably need a very powerful computer (not a PC, then) to keep track of them all to avoid multiple overdrafts…

Sue Cundell says:
9 February 2022

I live in an urban area and both banks within walking distance have closed. We are fortunate that there are two free ATMs within reasonable walking distance. If the ATMs close then it is a drive (whilst I still can) or bus into town. There is no easy place to pay in cheques (as I still receive these), but I have found a way to do this. Thank goodness I am fairly confident with technology and internet banking – I am a pensioner and not all of us are confident in this area. So, there is some discrimination here. Perhaps banks should look closely at acting co-operatively and ensure that there is a branch which can deal across all banks situated in all localities. This could be in a petrol station, a post office, a shop/supermarket fast outlet, or similar.

Mr. K.L.Peachet says:
9 February 2022

Back in the 70 t’s they did everything they could to stop us being paid cash. Even offering us money to go monthly and get our money paid straight into the bank. Now it looks like the Banks don’t won’t us to have any money at all. I know it won’t happen, but I would love to see everybody take there money out of the Banks, and see what tune they start singing then. I for-one am feedup with being pushed around by the Banks. What ever happened to the customer is always right. It has been replaced with don’t do as we do. Do as we say. BANKS DON’T CARE ABOUT THERE CUSTOMERS ANYMORE. JUST HOW MUCH THAY CAN MAKE OUT OF THEM. PURE GREED!!!!

Where I live use to be a village and is now been upgraded to a town. When we were a village we had a bank but now we are a town we have no bank or any other amenities. Plenty of luxury unaffordable 5 bed homes though.

Alice says:
9 February 2022

Unfortunately I suspect that banks getting rid of cash and counters is part of a much bigger plan to make all of our financial transactions accessible and transparent to them, and whoever else wants to take an interest in your financial transactions and physical whereabouts. This “digital revolution” includes banks (and other parties who can gain access to bank records, and believe me, they can and do) not only what you pay into your account but also how, where and what you spend it on. It is digital surveillance of the highest order and could of course be used in all manner of ways that will could affect every single person that has to rely on some form of monetary system (e.g, all of us).
Think this sounds far fetched and cynical? Look at what happens right now in China and its Social Credit system. If you think that won’t happen here, I suggest everyone ponders on the unprecedented restrictions and changes that our own and other countries governments have placed on their citizens in the last two years. Your life will not be your own if you don’t start standing up to some of the changes.

I am inclined to agree with you. We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society in many other ways. So-called “smart” loudspeakers enable providers to listen in to one’s conversations, with web-cameras so that one can be watched too. “Smart” meters enable one’s energy consumption to be monitored by the hour (if you do not insist on more infrequent readings), and so to deduce what the energy is being used for. Using a credit card, of course, enables details of one’s purchases to be determined. We are very close to living in the society envisaged by George Orwell and so few people seem to be concerned at the possible consequences!

Susie M Goodman says:
9 February 2022

I am disabled & depend on friends to obtain cash for me to pay various helpers etc. which is so much easier than a cheque as I only have the use of one hand !!!!!

Luckily I can get up to £50 from my ‘corner Coop’.

Since the first Covid lock-down ,I have not been using the ATM in our area.
Lodging cash into the bank is done by a method which limits the need to enter the bank .
Coins are always an issue has they can’t be lodged using the banks system.

As an 87 year old, I use cash, cheques and a credit card. I do not use any form of banking on line, nor do I use cash-points. My credit card is not “contactless” as I regard the removal of one level of security (via a pin number) as insane.

As a result of local bank closures, I now use a building society account to draw cash, when I need it. I hope that this facility will see me out, as I use cash for all small purchases, and my credit card only for larger amounts.

When I first had a bank account almost seventy years ago banks were regarded as being “as safe as houses”. As a result of the stupid changes to banking regulations some forty years ago, banks can now gamble with our money, leading to a near catastrophe as we saw in 2007/8, and the government now guarantees deposits up to £85,000! The introduction of “free” banking was another stupid mistake, resulting in a series of scandals as banks sought to make money from depositers when they no longer simply charged them for holding their money.

It is also stupid to allow customers to take the bank’s money without permission in the form of an “unauthorised loan”. When I needed a loan many years ago, I had an interview with the manager who wielded significant power, and had to lodge a life insurance policy as collateral for the advance.

I hope you will excuse this rant from an old git, but I do consider that most of the changes I have seen are generally unwise at best and have lead to much misery for many people as well as a significant crisis for the country, whose effects are still with us.

Jane says:
9 February 2022

When I looked at my area on the map (Freedom to pay campaign on Which.co.uk) I was shocked to find that it said -100% for St Helens North – does this mean that all the free ATMs in the area have been removed? (I wasn’t sure how to interpret the data). I only moved here in August but don’t use cash too often. I have got cash from an ATM somewhere since then but it may have been in Ashton-in-Makerfield which comes under Wigan (I am close to the border with Wigan) or it may have been when I was visiting family in another area.

Jane, you can find ATMs, free to use and pay to use, on the LINK locator map.https://www.link.co.uk/consumers/locator/
You can also withdraw cash free from almost any post office and some shops are now beginning to offer cash from the till without any purchase.

Catherine McArdle says:
9 February 2022

As the Treasurer of a church in London I echo all the comments made about the new community account arrangements. However, it seems to me that it is only now that outside organisations are becoming interested – when I first received my HSBC letter I contacted Which? but did not receive a positive (or even interested) reply. It is not just HSBC – all banks (it seems) are doing the same. If turnover is less than £100,000 it appears to be better but ours is just over that threshold – our expenditure is pretty much the same so we are not making lots of money. After 2 months of charges it is the deposits which cost the money.

David Taylor says:
9 February 2022

I have had an a/c with HSBC for 60 years & I was (upset?) when they closed the local branch, which meant I need to travel to Chippenham to carry out my banking. Like always in the past I went to cash a cheque but the till service had been removed, you can still cash it at Devizes or Bath was the reply when I queried the closure which all three banks mean journey time. you can use your Debit Card which I have never used & never carry. I explained I purposely came to cash the cheque & had no notification of the till service closing. after much haggling the cheque was cashed, all with old notes & then informed me they will not cash another. Why has it come to this? Machines go wrong, I prefer using cash especially with businesses that accept it which are also becoming rarer.

John Mason says:
9 February 2022

My Barclays branch closed at midday today. Had written earlier to the head office pointing out that their suggested alternatives would involve 2 hrs and 4 hr bus trips (at age 87 I don’t drive any more).
Nice letter back plus lovely basket of biscuits saying sorry, but please use the Post Office..
Tough!

John H says:
9 February 2022

PRIVACY
All our card and online purchases are heavily monitored by scores of companies and advertising agencies. There is no privacy here whatsoever. CASH is the only means we have left to purchase goods without companies logging our details and flooding us with marketing. I use cash wherever possible to preserve it’s usage (and my privacy) in our currency system.

phil says:
9 February 2022

My income is fixed and won’t be going up in the foreseeable future
I stopped using my central heating 4 years ago so no saving possible there
I am looking at reducing my broadband costs ….both the provider and the services I’ll use
My food budget has remained constant amount wise over the last 4 but obviously I can buy less
I no longer eat out or go out to socialise
and I have reduced my mileage since they ruined petrol meaning I had to buy more expensive petrol that does less mpg