/ Money

Do you still need your local bank branch?

Bank signs

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?

Comments
Member

I visit my branch to pay in cheques. Usually I just put them in an envelope with the paying-in slips and post it through the door when I’m passing.

It is comforting to know that if I had a problem I could talk face-to-face, rather than have to deal with a call centre.

I can understand why banks are closing branches but in the same way they share cash dispensers, perhaps they could find a way of running a branch that served all the main banks. For many years the Midland bank on the campus of the university where I work did offer some shared services. The university had made this a requirement and it worked well.

Member

Oops. That should read where I worked, not work. The branch has long gone, but the idea of shared services was well liked at the time.

Member

The last time I received a cheque, I paid it in using the Barclays Mobile Banking app, just by taking a photo of the cheque with the app. Hopefully this will become widespread so that those who insist on using this archaic method of payment no longer create such an unreasonably onerous task for the payee.

Member

NFH, what would you replace the cheque with for the many you don’t use online banking?

Member

I’m certainly keen to pay in cheques online, NFH. You did mention this before.

Member

Malcolm, I didn’t say that cheques should be replaced, but that we should have a non-onerous way of depositing cheques. Receiving a cheque is a real pain, unless one can deposit it with a mobile app.

Now you come to mention it, I do believe that cheques should be abolished, but that’s another topic.

Member

Well at the risk of being contrary, I am very happy to receive cheques of any amount and at any frequency. I find they lead to an enormous improvement of my relationship with my bank.

Member

John, don’t forget why many organisations issue cheques instead of bank transfers. I can’t find the statistic, but a huge proportion of cheques issued are never deposited because the payee finds it too onerous; time is money. No business, especially a large one, should be issuing cheques in this day and age. It is a disingenuous practice, designed only to reduce an business’s outgoings based on the statistical likelihood of payees not bothering to deposit them.

Member

I agree with you on commercial cheques. Most of the payments I receive go straight into my bank account [and straight out again it seems some months!] but there are all sorts of miscellaneous personal cheques that have to be paid in and I am diligent about doing it. ERNIE occasionally favours me with a paltry win which has to be paid in, and from time to time I organise dinners where people have to cough up their portion and they usually give me a cheque – and then I have to send a cheque to that night’s chosen charity. I use quite a few cheques each year to pay independent tradesmen where the amount involved is more than you would normally have in cash; the central heating engineer needs a cheque for the annual service and I’m always sending off for books and music from odd companies who I don’t necessarily want to have my card details. So, in my case, the need for cheques shows no sign of diminishing at the moment. Luckily, because nobody can think of a practical alternative, they will be around for longer than me I expect.