Could high street bank branches become a thing of the past?

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Date: 3 November 2020

High street banks

If bank branches continue to close at their current rate there will be none left by April 2032, according to a new study of the retail banking sector.

Research by financial analysis firm AskTraders has found that an average of 55 banks have closed every month for the past five years. The study has found that just 7,655 banks remain. If this trend were to continue, all of the remaining branches in the UK would close within the next 12 years.

The research has also identified the areas hardest hit by bank closures. Nottingham is the city with the worst access to banks, followed by Bristol and Liverpool. London offers the best access to banks, followed by Southampton, Belfast and Edinburgh.

There are stark differences across the UK when it comes to the number of people each bank branch serves. For example, a single branch in Bradford South serves almost 106,000 people, while in Derby North and Chatham and Aylesford one bank serves 102,509 and 102,240 people respectively.

Residents in Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Outer Hebrides), Scotland, have the best access to banks with 108 branches serving a population of 26,830. That equates to just 248 people per bank.

In England, the City of London and Westminster have the best supply of banks in relation to their populations. About 130,000 people are served by 112 banks which works out at 1,160 people per bank.

The study found that 86% of Brits used the internet for online banking this year; however, 19% still visit a bank once a week or more and 39% said they visit their bank as regularly as they did five years ago. The most common reason for people visiting a bank is to pay in cheques, followed by withdrawing cash and seeking financial advice.

Nigel Frith, senior financial analyst at AskTraders, said the government must act now to protect access to cash. "With 50 million people in the UK still reliant on using cash, the need for security around high street banks is clear to see," he said. "While high streets and banking groups must continue to evolve, millions of people still rely on the services physical bank branches provide.

"Online banking should certainly be embraced but not at the expense of branches on the high street which meet the nuanced needs of individuals. It's really important the government delivers on its promise to protect access to cash."

Although Post Offices are often mooted as an alternative to bank branches, the study found that just 23% of Brits use them for banking services and more than 14% are completely unaware that they can use the Post Office for financial tasks.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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