The UK has lost almost two thirds of its bank branches in the last 30 years, leaving a fifth of households now more than three kilometres from their nearest branch, according to figures compiled by consumer group Which?.
According to parliamentary records, there were 20,583 branches in 1988, but the consumer champion’s analysis of all the current account providers shows that there are just 7,586 today.
While wholesale bank closures have left one in five (19%) of the population more than three kilometres from their nearest branch as the crow flies, almost one in 10 people (8%) have to travel more than five kilometres and six per cent are more than six kilometres from a bank.
Banks often justify branch closures by pointing to partnership deals with local Post Offices for populations in remote areas. However, Which? has called into question the viability of the Post Office network as a stopgap solution, pointing to research which indicates that almost half of adults (45%) in Great Britain are unaware that they could use a Post Office for banking purposes.
A further 47% say they are unlikely to use one in the future, citing a number of reasons such as concerns over staff expertise in financial services (28%), long queues (42%) and a lack of privacy to engage in financial affairs (32%). Six in ten (59%) simply prefer to deal directly with their bank.
There are also a number of 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.
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. None of these tasks can be completed at a Post Office.
Ceri Stanaway, Which? Money Editor, says: “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.
“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.”