London: Three of Britain’s largest banks are planning to close about 400 branches this year, according to people familiar with the situation, a new programme of closures that could leave thousands of customers without easy access to a bank.
The number of branches operated by the major banking groups in the UK has halved in the last 20 years and following political pressure a new rule was set last year that requires banks to assess the impact on local communities of a branch closure.
HSBC may close the highest number with about 200 branches set to go this year, the people said. That is about a fifth of the bank’s UK branches and a third more than it closed last year.
Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays are also planning to close about 100 branches each, the people said. “The bank closures will accelerate the death of the British high street,” said Campaign for Community Banking director Derek French. “This will particularly have a knock on impact on local businesses and the elderly.”
HSBC, RBS and Barclays said in separate statements they were reducing their branch networks as customers visit less frequently in favour of banking online or via mobile. Each bank said they had put in place measures to mitigate customer concerns, with HSBC forming a partnership with the Post Office and Barclays linking up with supermarket chain ASDA to continue offering services.
While banks argue the need to maintain extensive branch networks has fallen sharply in recent years as customers increasingly bank online, critics say local branches provide a vital service and that elderly and low income customers are hit hardest by closures as many do not have internet access. About 70 per cent of Britons still say it is important to have a bank branch close to where they live, according to a survey of 2,010 people by research firm ComRes.