As talks take place about how to deal with closing bank branches, it might be wise to think about how you do your banking. Will you need to adjust your banking habits?
For many of us, a bank branch is part of the backbone of the local high street. My own beloved Deptford High Street has been the home of some of the banking industry’s biggest names over the years – along with what is surely South London’s greatest burger van.
But with changes to what we have regarded as ‘typical’ in high street life – the butcher, the baker etc – the local bank branch is now under threat. Back in 1990, there were 17,991 branches on the high streets. Over the years we’ve seen their numbers fall and by April 2015 another 142 will close, leaving just 9,081 in the UK. This will undoubtedly raise concerns for smaller communities who may lose their face-to-face banking service.
Vince Cable is currently in discussions with the banking industry and us at Which? about how best to manage the decline in branch banking. The question is, if branches close, how will people access physical banking services?
Changes in banking habits
It is undeniable that people use branches less, with some banks reporting footfall declines of up to 30% over four years. Lloyds for example gave up on its pledge to keep its branches open wherever it was the ‘last bank in town’, blaming a faster than expected fall in usage.
This is partly driven by developments in personal banking, such as telephone, online and mobile banking, which for many make the local branch less of a lifeline than it once was. Royal Bank of Scotland recently claimed that its most popular branch was the 7.15am to Paddington because so many people use its mobile banking app. Banks also point to the role of the Post Office in providing an alternative to branches.
Looking after all customers
Yet, there’s no denying that online and mobile alternatives aren’t for everyone, while the information provided by banks over the phone has repeatedly been shown to be patchy at best.
Inevitably, there will always be customers who want to do their banking face-to-face with many of those who value their local branch being people who simply aren’t comfortable conducting essential financial transactions online.
We don’t think banks should leave their customers high and dry when branches close. Banks must keep their promise to maintain vital banking services for all, particularly for the most vulnerable. We’ll continue to make sure your voices are heard by the Government, industry and regulator.
Do you still use your local branch? If it was to close, what alternative banking facility would you like to see?