We’ve identified a worrying trend of bank branch closures in Wales. As we give evidence to the Welsh Assembly for the first time, do you share our concerns?
Today, I gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee inquiry into Access to Banking; the first time that Which? has appeared before a committee in the Welsh Assembly.
Their inquiry looking at access to banking in Wales seeks to understand the impact of bank branch closures, and to explore how to ensure people have access to the payment services they need.
Russell George AM, chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee said:
“Accessing face to face banking has become a real problem for many. There is obviously a concern that the situation could be having a negative impact on communities as well as local economies.
We want to look more closely at the situation across the country and have urged those affected to take part in our inquiry so we get a clear picture of how banking in Wales has changed”
We know that Welsh people sometimes struggle to access the banking services they need, including cash.
Cash is relied upon by many; whether to help budget effectively, pay for smaller goods and local services, or due to a lack of confidence in using digital alternatives. It’s also crucial for those without reliable internet or mobile connection, and when digital systems fail.
New Which? research shows that 12% of people in Wales have been left unable to use their debit or credit card in the last year due to technical failure.
Without cash as a backup these people would have been unable to manage their money or make payments. In addition, our recent Consumer Insight Report for Wales found that less than half (45%) of people trusted everyday banking services to act in their best interest.
We want more to be done to support people in Wales, and our Freedom to Pay campaign is calling on the Welsh and UK Government to protect cash as an accessible payment option for as long as it is still needed.
A worrying trend of branch closures
We analysed bank branch closures in Wales between January 2015 and January 2019 and found that 235 branches closed their doors to customers.
These closures spanned many of the major high street banks; Barclays, Co-Op, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, Natwest, RBS, Santander, TSB and the Yorkshire Building Society.
The greatest number of closures during this period were seen in the constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, which lost 14 banks , closely followed by Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, and Dwyfor Meirionnydd, both of which lost 13 branches.
On top of these branch closures, free-to-use ATMs are also being lost. Analysis of LINK data suggests that Wales lost 3% of its free-to-use ATM network between July 2018 and January 2019, a concerning statistic given that 71% of our cash campaign supporters use ATMs to access their cash.
We’re concerned at the impact of lost bank branches and ATMs on rural constituencies where there is often poor phone or internet signal preventing online banking and contactless card payments.
What have our supporters told us?
Alongside our analysis of national bank branch data, we also surveyed supporters in Wales, to understand more about their relationship with cash.
We found that 89% of people reported using cash at least once a week, with 10% using high street banks to access their money, yet 63% had seen a local bank branch close in the last year and 44% reported a cashpoint closure.
The importance of the Inquiry
By conducting this inquiry, the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee has publicly shown how important it is that Welsh consumers are able to access the banking services that they need.
We believe that people should have the freedom to pay for their goods and services in the way they are most confident and most comfortable and we look forward to seeing the recommendations made by the Committee.
Are you concerned about the rate of bank branch closures in Wales, particularly in rural areas? Do you now find it harder to access your money as a result of a loss of free-to-use ATMs and the closure of high street banks?