They’re going, going (and a lot are already gone) but you still have a variety of banking options to choose from
You know bank branches, right? Queues, cashiers, tiny pens? Well, hold onto those memories because more than 800 branches closed last year and even more are to follow in 2018.
The reasons are pretty obvious. More people are using online, telephone and app-based banking than ever before.
According to the figures released by RBS, since 2014 the number of customers visiting its physical branches has fallen by 40%, while mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same time. And other banks are saying the same thing. In the face of such changing customer behaviour, banks say they can’t maintain the same number of branches.
But despite the figures, there are some occasions where going straight into a branch to chat to a real person is the easiest option. And not all of us are keen to do everything online. So do we have any rights to stop our branches closing? And what are the alternatives? Don’t worry, here’s everything you need to know.
Which branches are closing?
At the end of last year, RBS announced it was going to close 62 branches, while NatWest revealed plans to axe 197. Lloyds had already said it was going to close 49 branches and Yorkshire Building Society is closing 13.
The banking brands are being very transparent about which branches are being chopped, so you should be able to find out if your local branch is affected by heading to their websites.
As a rule, if your local branch is going to close then your bank should write to let you know, usually giving you two months’ notice. That letter should also let you know where your next nearest branch is.
What are my alternatives?
1. Take it online
The obvious option is to use online and telephone banking but the chances are you either already do but also want a branch to visit, or you simply prefer not to.
However, if you've never banked online before, but want to give it a try, it’s worth asking your bank for help before the branch shuts. Your bank should be able to guide you through setting up an online or telephone account.
It's also understandable that you might be worried about your security. However, as long as you are careful and never give out details over the phone or by following emailed links then it can be very safe. Check out the ‘Take 5’ campaign for tips on staying safe.
Remember as well that keeping an eye on your credit file can help you spot and stop identity theft. (Login to ClearScore to see yours.)
2. Do more with an ATM
Even though your branch may be going, often the ATM facilities that are attached are still available. You can use these machines to check your balance, print a mini-statement and withdraw cash.
3. Start using the Post Office
A number of banks now have an agreement that allows customers to withdraw and deposit cash at their local Post Office branch, as well as to check their bank balances and pay in cheques.
It’s a good place to do most day-to-day banking, even if you can’t consult a personal banker there. Here’s a handy list of banks that offer their services via the Post Office.
4. Switch banks
If your branch has closed but there’s still another bank in town then you could consider switching. It’s worth checking that the new bank matches your actual needs – for example, doesn’t overcharge for an overdraft or does provide a good packaged account.
We’re not very fond of switching accounts in the UK even though there can be lots of benefits. But thanks to the Switching Guarantee Scheme, moving to a different bank or building society is easy and should be completed within 7 days, without you having to do anything to move your money.
And you don't just have to stick to the traditional options. A number of new challenger banks, that exist solely online or in an app, have started to banking options. For example, Monzo, Starling and Revolut all offer current accounts. These may not have any branches, but they still have great customer services and lots of additional features to help you stay on top of your finances.
Can I stop it?
Once it looked like it might be possible to stem the closure of banks simply by demanding they stay. For example, RBS had pledged to never shut a branch if it had become the last bank in a town, but that pledge was scrapped last year.
It certainly seems more likely that the high street bank branch may become less common, with smaller towns and areas being expected to share a larger nearby branch.
However, there are lots of alternative options, and banks may even start to roll out new alternatives, such as having ‘surgeries’ where their staff go out into communities.
But it's unlikely that in the near future bank branches will disappear completely. There are always reasons to visit a bank in person, including talking to advisors or using the tiny pens.