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Over the course of the last 30 years, the UK has lost nearly two thirds of its bank branches, resulting in a fifth of households having to travel more than three kilometres to reach their nearest branch, according to a new survey by consumer watchdog Which?
The watchdog found that in 1988 there were roughly 20,583 bank branches in the UK, while today that number has fallen to around 7,586, with Which? warning that the wave of closures seen over the last 30 years could leave communities without access to financial services.
‘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,’ Which? Money Editor Ceri Stanaway said.
‘For many there is simply no substitute for a dedicated branch and the wide range of services it offers and many customers now face having to travel long distances if they are to avoid financial exclusion.’
‘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,’ she added.
Post Office picks up the slack
For people living in smaller towns and in the countryside, the decline in high street bank branches has been made worse by cashpoint closures.
The Post Office is often proposed as an alternative solution to offset the closing of thousands of bank branches, with the UK postal service boasting a massive network of 11,547 offices up and down the country.
‘With 99.7% of the UK population within three miles of their Post Office nearest branch, we are uniquely placed to bring vital services to local communities right across the country,’ Banking Services Director at the Post Office Martin Kearsley said.
‘So, whether there is a bank branch nearby or not, we offer a range of every day banking services in every single one of our Post Office branches.’
‘From cash deposits and withdrawals, to balance enquiries, we want to make life as easy as possible for the millions of customers and small businesses who use us every day nationwide, and we will keep reminding people that we are here for them – not just today, but tomorrow and into the future too,’ he added.
Despite the Post Office’s commitment to picking up the slack left by traditional lenders shutting up shop, many consumers in Britain are simply not aware that they can use the postal service to access financial services.
In fact, around 45% of adults in Britain surveyed said they were unaware they could use a Post Office for banking purposes and 47% said they were unlikely to use one in the future.
Consumers surveyed also said that they were sceptical about the level of financial services expertise at the Post Office and 60% of people Which? spoke to simply said they would prefer to speak with their bank manager directly.
There are also several services valued by consumers that are not currently offered by the Post Office. These include opening or closing accounts, transferring money between accounts, making a complaint about the bank and requesting a replacement debit card.