HSBC to close more branches as Post Office steps in to replace closed sites


In a move that brings an end to its extensive branch closure programme in recent years, the lender said it would shutter an extra 62 sites this year – resulting in as many as 180 redundancies – on top of the 55 closures earmarked for 2017 that it disclosed last year, reports the Telegraph.

In addition, HSBC also said it plans to shed a further 204 IT jobs, having already announced last year the loss of 840 technology roles as it moves jobs to India, China and Poland.

 The cuts are part of a wide-ranging overhaul of the bank that boss Stuart Gulliver unveiled in June 2015, when he outlined plans to slash 8,000 roles in Britain.

HSBC said today that the extra branch closures – which will take its UK estate down to 625 sites – were a reaction to Britons’ increasing tendency to use digital banking on computers and smartphones. It estimated that in the last five years it had seen a near 40 per cent plunge in the number of customers using its branches.

“We now feel we have the right branch network that complements the other ways in which customers now choose to interact with us,” said Antonio Simoes, who helms HSBC’s UK and European operations. Dominic Hook, of union Unite, described the latest cuts as a “dark day” for the bank’s employees.

According to research by consumer rights group Which? released last month, HSBC shut 321 sites since January 2015, some 27 per cent of its branch network and the most closures of any UK lender during the period.

News of yet further shrinking of HSBC’s British estate came as it emerged that banks have stuck a deal with the Post Office to allow customers access to over-the-counter services at high street sites as a replacement for closed bank branches.

The Post Office’s 11,600 branches will now offer cash, cheque, debit and credit card services to customers of all the main banks and several smaller lenders, covering an estimated 99 per cent of all personal banking customers and 75 per cent of business customers.

The thousands of bank closures in recent years some have left some customers unhappy as they prefer to use branches, particularly for larger transactions such as mortgages, or because they are not comfortable using the internet to manage their finances.

Banks have taken some steps to slow the closures – Lloyds Banking Group, for example, spent several years trying to avoid closing a branch if it was the last bank in a town – but the move to the internet has proved unstoppable.

The Post Office has also been looking for ways to bring in more customers to its under-used branches. Under the new system the Post Office can act as a hub on the high street for the customers of all banks.

However, that also means banks will have fewer qualms about closing branches in smaller towns and villages with relatively low volumes of traffic.

“By making sure alternative counter-based banking services are accessible through the Post Office, the impact of local branch closures on communities can be minimised,” the Post Office said, announcing the scheme.

“The Post Office plays an important part in financial inclusion. It is the most accessible place for handling financial transactions, particularly in remote areas – ensuring customers have the opportunity to access cash and basic banking services whenever and wherever they need, providing a vital stimulus for local businesses.”

The Post Office said it is also working to increase opening hours and keep more branches open on Sundays, in contrast to many banks, which are often closed over the weekend.

The scheme took several years to agree, as the banks sought to decide which products and services could be offered in a standardised way through the Post Office branches.

Another hurdle is the fact that the Post Office also offers its own financial services products and accounts, meaning banks are now sending their own customers into a rival’s branches.

“Nine out of 10 people now live within 20 minutes’ walk from a bank or a Post Office where they are able to do banking face-to-face with another person,” said Anthony Browne, chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association.

“Banking is changing hugely, with people now able to speak to their banks at any time of the day or night on the phone or check their balance on an app.

“But this isn’t for everyone, as some people still want that personal contact, which is why this arrangement with the Post Office is such good news. It ensures customers can continue to access face-to-face banking and that no one gets left behind by the technological revolution sweeping the industry.”