11,746 And Counting: The Decline Of The High Street Bank

Sep 1 2016

Darren Best

The way we conduct our banking is changing dramatically, resulting in far fewer people visiting branches, as people organise their finances using either telephone banking or online services with smartphones, tablets or laptops. A large decrease in the use of cheques has contributed to this, and the days when employees would receive a wad of cash in their pay packet at the end of the month are long gone. This is understandable in our highly technological age, but of course some people do suffer from the decreasing number of banks, particularly the elderly who are far less likely to use the internet for their transactions. It also impacts on those who live in rural areas, where travelling to their nearest bank could be a 30 minute bus ride, or more. Bank closures can also be detrimental to small businesses and local shops who depend on the ability to bank their cash takings daily rather than leaving large amounts of cash on their premises overnight; which is risky. 15% of small businesses are more than four miles from a bank. four-big-banks-uk-small Photo credit - top row, left to right: JuliusKielaitis/Shutterstock, chrisdorney/Shutterstock  Photo credit - bottom row, left to right: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock, chrisdorney/Shutterstock Currently, 1500 towns have no bank at all, 840 have just one bank; with Wales being the area of the UK that is losing the most banks. HSBC, RBS and Barclays have seen the highest number of closures, with Metro Bank, the only branch to be opening more than its closing. However, these openings are exclusively in London and some areas outside of the capital such as Brighton, Southend on-Sea and Cambridge. Those living in the capital, therefore do not notice when a bank closes, as there's almost indefinitely another within five minute walking distance. Areas outside of London are more likely to suffer, forcing banks to become commercial properties for sale for new investors looking to invest in another way. Drawing from data released from BBA (The Voice of Banking), as well as the Big 4 UK banks (HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds), savoystewart has found a number of towns where some residents have lost their immediate bank branch through closures and now have to travel several miles to their next nearest branch: decline-of-banks-infographics-uk

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Big Four

All of the big four are closing their branches at an alarming rate. HSBC cites a 40% reduction in customers visiting branches as more are turning to telephone and internet banking. As a result, they have closed more branches than any other. Barclays are the second highest in branch culling, and in 2014 announced their plan to close 400 more, at a rate of about 100 per year. RBS, which is 73% owned by the taxpayer, cut around 1400 jobs between March and May 2016, and Lloyds shut around 20 branches in July 2016 alone. major-banking-groups-closed-uk


A study by the University of Nottingham found that the least affluent areas of the UK have suffered a combined two thirds of net closures between 1995 and 2012. These are usually areas with higher unemployment rates and above average renting from public sector. These closures leave communities struggling to access banking facilities, meaning they must travel further to visit one.


A number of campaigns have been set up by citizens who are angry about losing their local bank. A report by ComRes found that 70% of people surveyed think it’s important to have their local bank branch close by. They argue that even the most tech-savvy people may need occasional face-to-face support from a proper bank. community-banks-closed-uk Other reasons for their campaigning is the axing of bank staff jobs, the accelerated death of the British high street, and environmental concerns as people become more reliant on using cars to get to their closest branch. There have been efforts by the government to ensure that Post Offices can be used for some banking transactions, but campaigners have argued this is not good enough as Post Office services can be limited. Lloyd's Bank, back in June was scrutinised for its closure of its popular branch in Reading and Theale. One local Councillor, took the matter into his own hands and launched a campaign calling for Lloyd's bank to reverse its decision to close a bank in Theale in Berkshire, leaving the community without a bank at all. The banking giant, claimed that the closure was due to the branch in Theale only attracting 13 customers on a regular basis, meaning it had no reason to stay open. The decision to close was rejected by hundreds of residents who signed a petition to keep it open. Unfortunately, it closed in June and Lloyd's Bank released a statement claiming: ‘the majority of customers also now regularly use alternative branches or channels to complete their banking needs.’ The spokeswoman added that the ‘closest branch is in Broad Street, which is within walking distance of Market Place’. Lloyd's decision to close two of its most popular branches is the latest to be axed as part of a nationwide cast-off, as banks adapt to the changing technological behaviour of customers. Lloyd's, HSBC, Santander, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and the Co-operative, shut more than 600 bank branches and more than 3,000 branches have closed over the last decade.

Alternatives to banks?

  • Free to use ATMs and proper information on how to use their features
  • Post Office branches close by and more awareness that they can be used for banking
  • Alternative bank branches close by
  • Ability to get cash from retail outlets

Here are some quotes from people suffering the impact of losing their local branch:

“Whenever I used to visit my local bank it always seemed busy... I can’t understand why they closed it. Now I have to take the bus and it’s a 30-minute journey I have to travel”. “I work in an office in town and having the bank there was handy. We still receive lots of cheques that I need to cash in. I can’t pop in on my lunch break anymore”. “The Barclays down the road from me has closed... its sitting their empty now, like plenty of other shops that closed in the town, all empty buildings". "I am self-employed so I need access to the bank quite a bit... it has made it more difficult for me when I frequently need to cash in".

In Summary

All banks are following similar patterns of closures with many banks seeing their final bank close; a staple aspect of every high street in the UK. The move comes as so many more of us are turning to online banking rather than visiting our local branch. However, this inconveniences local businesses, the elderly, the disabled and low-income consumers who may not have the means to always use to use online banking. Moreover, sometimes it’s just more convenient to speak to someone in person. The government therefore needs to assure consumers, that there are a variety of ways people can carry out their banking to cope with such fast paced closures and more looming in the future.  

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