You can’t bank on it anymore
The UK should open more shared banking hubs to help those who feel uncomfortable managing their finances online, Age UK has said. This would benefit communities that have seen all their bank branches close, particularly in rural areas where they have no or limited access to the internet for online banking.
To help support local communities, the banking industry has come up with some alternative forms of accessing cash or in-person customer services, including banking hubs. So far, only four of these have opened. Forty-eight more hubs have been agreed across the UK, but it can take twelve months to find premises and get up and running.
Jane Colthup, Chief Executive of Community First Yorkshire, said: “Age UK’s report highlights concerns about online banking such as fraud and scams, insufficient trust in online banking services, and a lack of computer skills.
“As the Rural Community Council for North, South and West Yorkshire, we are concerned that reducing bank branches will make it even more difficult for those in rural communities with poor broadband or mobile connections to access banking services. This will mean that many rural residents are disadvantaged when managing their finances. Poor public transport in rural areas makes accessing any remaining bank branches located further away even more difficult than it already is for our rural communities. This makes it even more essential that banking hubs are opened quickly in locations which are accessible for everyone.”
What the banks say
Banks say that their closures have been driven by a rapid increase in online and mobile banking and a rapid decline in the use of physical branches. Which? has been tracking bank branch closures since 2015. Banks and building societies have closed (or scheduled the closure) 5,605 branches since January 2015, at a rate of around 54 each month.
Which? has also tracked bank and building society losses at a regional level from January 2015 to the end of 2023 (including scheduled closures). This shows that in Yorkshire and Humber there are 286 open and 442 closed banks and building societies.
For now, those in rural areas without a branch will have to rely on either waiting for hubs to open, the Post Office (many rural areas have also lost access to their Post Office branch), mobile banking vans, or community bankers.
Access to cash
Cash is still an important part of everyday life for millions, especially in rural areas at a time when the cost of fuel is high and many rely on cash to budget. Last year, the Post Office recorded a record £805m in cash withdrawals.
Which? has tracked the closure of ATMs and bank branches over the years and found that, since 2018, over 12,000 free-to-use ATMs – almost a quarter of the entire network – have closed.
The Financial Services and Markets Bill is waiting to be passed by the Houses of Parliament and if passed, will hand the oversight of the cash network to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), meaning branches can’t close in communities if there are no alternative methods to withdraw or deposit cash.
Rural areas harder hit
Research by Which? shows that, since 2015, the banking network in rural constituencies has been cut by half (50.7%), compared with 47.3% in urban areas. On average, rural constituencies have just 0.1 bank branches per 10sq km and 1.1 ATMs, compared with 2.6 branches per 10sq km in urban areas and 31.3 ATMs.
Jane concludes: “Rural residents should not be disadvantaged in accessing key basic services such as managing their finances and access to banking facilities because of where they live.”
This is an issue not just affecting members of the public and their personal accounts. In this article (from The Scarborough News on 1 December), our trustee David Jeffels spoke about Whitby’s HSBC branch which is expected to close next week on 16 May. In December, David said that: “…if the closure was to go ahead as planned, it could also result in the loss of the ATM cash machine in the town centre, hitting local spending power.”
Impact on charities
Small rural charities have also had difficulties with their banking arrangements. In Action with Communities in Rural England’s (ACRE) survey (June 2022), 1,200 charities were asked about their recent banking experience. The report found that:
- 67% reported significant delays and difficulties with changing signatories
- 41% considered they had become subject to unreasonable charges
- 48% of those who responded were from rural areas and many of these linked their difficulties with the closure of bank branches or difficulties converting to online banking (17% of the population live in rural areas)
- Small charities need access to bank accounts to be able to provide their services legally, in keeping with their own rules, and those set down by charity law.
As the Rural Community Council for North, South and West Yorkshire, we are working to help improve rural connectivity in North Yorkshire with our Digital Hubs project, find out more here. If you would like to share your thoughts or tell us your story, please contact us at email@example.com.