Nearly two thirds of the UK’s bank branch network has been lost over the past 30 years, analysis from Which? suggests.
Banks and building societies had 20,583 branches in 1988 according to parliamentary records, but the consumer group’s analysis of current account providers suggests the figure has dwindled to 7,586 branches now.
The consumer group said that while this may not be a complete like-for-like comparison, it gives a good indication of the size of the network 30 years ago against current levels.
Which? said a fifth (19%) of people now live more than three kilometres from their nearest branch as the crow flies and nearly one in 10 people (8%) have to travel more than five kilometres. Six per cent of people are now more than six kilometres from a bank, it said.
People can access their high street bank accounts at the Post Office’s branches.
But a survey of more than 2,000 people found many people are unaware they can use the Post Office for everyday banking services.
Nearly half (45%) of people were unaware that they could use a post office for banking purposes.
Among those who had used a post office, Which? found there were high satisfaction ratings, with more than three quarters (77%) of people saying they would be likely to use the service again.
But Which? said not all the services offered by banks are currently offered by the Post Office and banks also usually demand that customers call into a local branch for anti-fraud checks, or make an appointment to discuss important legal documents, such as lasting power of attorney or grant of probate.
The consumer group said that with many communities potentially struggling through the double blow of bank and ATM closures, action is needed to ensure people are not financially excluded and denied access to cash.
Ceri Stanaway, Which? money editor, said: “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.
“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.”
A spokesman for trade association UK Finance said: “Bank branches play an important role in the life of local communities and decisions to close them are never taken lightly.
“Consumers are increasingly choosing newer ways to help them with their banking, using technology to check balances and make payments – or even speak to your bank 24/7.
“But technology is not for everyone, so the major banks have made arrangements for customers and businesses to do their day-to-day banking at over 11,500 Post Office branches nationwide.
“Banks are also investing in new ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach more rural communities, and the industry’s access to banking standard supports business and communities, helping them to access alternative ways to bank when a local branch closes.
“Mobile banking is extremely safe with nearly 22 million people in the UK regularly using banking apps during 2017.”
Martin Kearsley, banking services director at the Post Office, said: “With the Post Office’s trusted network of 11,500 branches, and with 99.7% of the UK population within three miles of their nearest Post Office branch, we are uniquely placed to bring vital services to local communities right across the country.
“It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously, and it’s why we have secured continued access to almost every UK bank account through all of our branches, in partnership with the banking industry.
“So whether there is a bank branch nearby or not, we offer a range of everyday banking services in every single one of our post office branches.
“From cash deposits and withdrawals, to balance inquiries, 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.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We also found relatively few people know post offices provide basic banking services. And of those who did know, only about one in two said they’re using them.
“We want the Government, the Post Office and banks to raise awareness and help improve the banking services post offices offer, to ensure they meet consumer needs.”