/ Money

Is high street banking in Wales a thing of the past?

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”

Reduced access

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?

Comments
Kevin says:
13 June 2019

Surely the bigger issue here is that “less than half (45%) of people trusted everyday banking”, which will only be resolved by proper accountability for the thieves and rogues infesting the finance industry.

The plan for the health service in West Wales is to downgrade the 3 main hospitals in favour of a single large hospital (in the middle of nowhere BTW), so issues about village banking are just a side issue.

The Welsh Assembly Government is Cardiff centric, and has repeatably failed to make a significant impact on things like rural broadband and mobile access, despite grandiose paper projects which consume lots of cash but deliver little of substance. Fix these and rural bank services [mostly] can be delivered by online services and an imaginative approach to cash provision using other commercial outlets.

Wales is no different, in principle, to any other UK community, I’d suggest – particularly rural. Habits are changing and we need to come up with constructive proposals to deal with change. Other Convos have made such suggestions.

Much of this debate focuses on access to cash; there could be other ways to extend access rather than trying to retain all ATMs where their use is in significant decline. Cash businesses and shops is an example that could give far more people easy access to cash than the current bank and ATM network offers.

A couple of quibbles with the intro:
“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.“. On one occasion perhaps. The UK survey showed that this affected only 0.022% of transactions where purchases could not be completed. No doubt order was restored quote quickly. So a rather misleading statistic.

“Wales lost 3% of its free-to-use ATM network between July 2018 and January 2019” but no mention of whether the lost ATMs were relatively close to others. That matters in interpreting the number. LINK aim to protect ATMs more than 1km from others.

I’d like to see Which? publish statistics in proper context otherwise they might mislead people.

A few years ago I was on holiday in Llangollen and needed to visit a branch of my bank as soon as possible. I discovered that it had closed permanently the day before. I cannot remember the purpose of my intended visit but that had to wait until I returned from holiday.