Which? tells banks to stop rushing branch closures

Consumer rights protector says banks should pause branch closures until they can ensure people have access to cash and services

Which? is calling for a pause in bank branch closures amid fears that people could be left without easy access to cash and services.

Analysis from the consumer rights organisation has revealed that since the beginning of 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches in the UK.

It showed that an average of about 60 UK bank branches were closed in every month of 2021, with 298 UK bank branches closed between June and August this year alone.

The increased take-up of digital banking services during the Covid-19 pandemic and the desire by banks to cut operational costs has accelerated closures and the future of branch networks is uncertain.

The pandemic acted as a showcase for digital services, moving more people onto digital channels. The use of cash dropped and contactless payment methods skyrocketed as people tried to avoid physical contact with other people and things. But this is also set to have a lasting effect, with many people who were traditionally reluctant to use digital channels moving to them in droves during the pandemic.

A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 65% of bank executives believe the branch-based banking model will be dead in five years’ time.

But Which? is calling for a pause in branch closures until the government has had time to legislate to protect consumers.

Anabel Hoult, CEO at Which?, has written to banks warning that the rate of closures is undermining industry efforts to address dwindling cash access.

Which? demands that any closures should be subject to greater scrutiny than is currently required. Before a closure happens, it wants independent assessments made of the impacted community’s cash needs, with a summary of this assessment made public. It also wants banks to ensure there is no gap in provision of cash and services for people who need it, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.

Hoult said bank branch closures have left many people who depend on them for essential banking services at risk of being cut adrift. “This seems to fly in the face of work being done across the industry to protect access to cash,” she said.

“While many people can now bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to do so. Greater scrutiny of branch closures must be in place to ensure that people who rely on cash can access it.

“We are calling on banks to pause any programme of branch closures until proposals to protect access to cash are rolled out. The government must also urgently press ahead with long-promised legislation that guarantees consumers can continue to access cash for as long as it is needed.”

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