According to a report published by consumer group Which?, the number of bank branches in the UK has fallen by almost two thirds over the last 30 years, leaving a fifth of households now over three kilometres away from their closest branch.
Parliamentary records reveal that in 1988, the number of physical lenders stood at 20,583 in the UK, but according to the consumers’ association data of all current account providers, the number of branches now has been lowered to 7,568.
The closing down of wholesale banks has left one in every five (19%) household over three kilometres away from their nearest branch, while almost one in ten people (8%) have to travel more than five kilometres, leaving 6% of the population over six kilometres away from a lender.
The closure of banks is usually accredited to the creation of joint partnership deals between the specific lender and local Post Offices to accommodate residents living in remote areas. However, the validity of the Post Office network as a feasible banking alternative has been questioned as Which? researchers noted that almost half of all adults in Britain (45%) are unaware that they could use a Post Office as a substitute for their banking needs.
Statistics reveal that 47% of Britons believe they are unlikely to use a branch in the future, due to increasing worries over staff expertise in financial services (28%), long queues (42%) and an absence of privacy to experiment in financial affairs (32%). A further 59% argue that they would rather deal with their bank directly.
Furthermore, the Post Office network system fails to provide a number of services highly valued by clientele, such as the ability to open or close accounts, transferring money between accounts, filing a complaint about bank services or simply requesting a replacement debit card.
Other tasks which cannot be accomplished at the Post Office include making an appointment to discuss important legal affairs such as power of attorney or grant of probate. Moreover, banks usually require customers to appear at a local branch for anti-fraud checks.
“The true scale of bank branch closures in recent decades is staggering – and has left millions of people struggling to access the vital financial services and cash that they need,” says Ceri Stanaway, Which? Money Editor.
“We want to see banks properly justifying the reasons for closure and taking into account their customers’ needs before shutting their doors – and their customers out.”