British banks will have to provide 12 weeks' notice of branch closures and publish assessments of the impact on customers, under a new protocol to be published this week. However, the agreement is unlikely to slow the rush to cut expensive branch networks, stressing that closures are ultimately commercial decisions.
Sky News has obtained a copy of the 'Access To Banking Protocol' which has been put together by the British Bankers Association (BBA) and the government and will come into effect on 1 May.
Although TSB recently vowed to increase its branch network, for most banks the trend has been moving in the opposite direction as customers migrate to online and mobile channels. The BBA insists that banks will continue to invest in their branches for "decades to come" but, in an acknowledgement that closures are set to continue, has set out the rules for shutting down sites.
The document is set to say: "Banks will publish the results of their engagement and impact assessment, and the considerations taken into account in assessing the impact of the branch closure, subject to the removal of commercially sensitive information."
However, the protocol will stress: "While ensuring that customers are treated fairly, decisions on branch closures are ultimately commercial decisions for banks to take." And there will be no way to force providers to reconsider closures if assessments find that vulnerable people will be adversely affected.
Previous pledges by banks to not close branches if they are the last provider in a community are not being renewed, with the focus being on other options, such as digital channels, ATMs and the Post Office.
Alternatives will be decided upon based on the assessments and talks with local stakeholders. "Consideration will be given in particular to ensuring the continuity of small business relationship management (e.g. telephony, internet), and enabling branch users to check balances, make cash withdrawals, and make cash and cheque deposits."