By December 2023, more than one-third of UK bank branches will be closed. This is a dramatic drop from the three-fifths that existed in 2015.
According to data provided by ATM provider Link, a total 636 branches of banks are expected to close before the end of the year. 424 have already been closed. A further 42 branches have been announced to close by 2024.
The closures highlight the sparseness of cash infrastructure in the country, despite the government’s proposals made last month to guarantee long-term accessibility to cash.
Sam Richardson is deputy editor at consumer rights magazine Which? Money. Money.
Consumer group Which? After this year’s closings, Which? estimates that there will only be a little over 4,000 branches in the UK. 5,600 have closed since it started tracking data, which was back in January 2015.
The pandemic has accelerated the pace of branch network reductions.
Derek French, former NatWest executive said that the nature of the branch closures has changed since 2016, the year he closed the campaign for Community Banking Services, which he had founded.
He said that it used to be a rural issue in small towns and villages, but now, increasingly, the problem is occurring in larger towns which support the hinterland which has lost its branches years ago.
By the end of 2023, Southampton, Norwich Dundee, and Leeds will also lose multiple branches.
French said that digital banking alternatives are not suitable for those who are vulnerable, such as the financially disadvantaged people who depend on cash to manage expenses.
He said that people with lower incomes can have a hard time budgeting when they don’t receive a receipt for using a card or phone. Cash may be on the decline, but I think it’s important to have this option for people as a group. The government has set limits for how far people have to travel in order to get cash services. Banks that do not ensure that 95 percent of their retail clients and businesses can make deposits and withdrawals within a three-mile radius of the facility will be fined.
The efforts to create “bank hubs”, which are a collaboration between Post Office and lenders, in communities that lack branches, has been a welcomed alternative. The speed at which they are being implemented has been criticized; currently, only seven out of 76 hubs announced have opened.
John Howells is the chief executive officer of Link. He said, “I believe we will continue to see more bank branch closures. But, crucially, there will be hundreds more banking hubs. Banks will need to remain open until this new hub becomes operational.”
Chris Holmes, Conservative peer and long-time advocate for greater access to physical money, says that ensuring its availability only solves part of the problem. He called for legislation that would ensure cash payments are accepted, despite the growing use of card-only or digital payments.
He said that certain US cities and states require brick-and mortar businesses to accept payment in cash.
He asked, “What’s the point of having cash when you can’t spend it?” It’s important that everyone gets this point or certain communities will risk being left out.
The Treasury stated that the way people manage and access their money has changed for decades. Cash still plays an important role, even though we are in favor of the convenience and choice that digital payments offer.