Cheshire banks close at fastest pace in a decade

Cheshire banks closed at their fastest pace in a decade before the pandemic – and closings are expected to continue.

The number of bank branches opened in Cheshire fell 11% in the year through March 2020, from around 140 to around 125.

It was the biggest year-over-year decline since the numbers began in 2010.

Overall, the number of bank branches rose from closer to 200 that were operating in the county that year.

The number of branches of the construction company in Cheshire has declined more slowly since 2010, from around 50 to around 40.

Figures from the Bureau of National Statistics are rounded to the nearest five.

Halton saw the biggest drop in branch numbers since 2010, from around 20 to around 10.

The numbers are expected to drop further.

Consumer champion Which one? collects information on announced bank closures. According to his research, there were five closures in Cheshire in 2020 and early 2021.

These were the BST branches in Warrington, Orford, in May 2021, Warrington, Penketh and Congleton in October 2020, and Chester in June 2020, and the Co-op branch in Chester in December 2020.

In its analysis of the impact of the shutdown, Co-op said 67% of customers had only visited once or twice in the past year and 60% were signed up for online banking.

Likewise, the TSB said that 82% of customers at its branch in Warrington, Orford, 78% in Warrington, Penketh, 77% in Congleton and 92% at the Chester branch use other branches or other banking facilities. .

From the year through March 2020, the number of UK bank branches fell 10%, the second largest drop in the past decade.

According to the ONS tally, 7,675 branches were open nationwide in March 2020, down from 8,525 the year before.

Since 2010, when the numbers started, the number of branches has almost halved, from 14,855.

The number of branches of the construction company is smaller and more stable.

There were 1,880 in March 2020, the same number as in 2019, and a drop from 2,100 in 2010.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “The scale of the bank branch slaughter in recent years means communities across the country are being cut off from their money.

“The rapid move towards online banking over the past few years has caused significant problems for many older customers, especially those with visual impairments and dexterity issues.

“As older people increasingly go online, more than half of people aged 65 and over still do not use Internet banking services. When branch closures coincide with poor local transportation, a lack of ATMs, and mobile black spots, it can become nearly impossible for seniors to manage their money independently.

Some regions may now no longer have a local branch – the Isles of Scilly, Clackmannanshire, North Warwickshire, North East Derbyshire and Bolsover have fewer than three branches (and possibly none).

The number of bank branches and building societies is based on UK business counts carried out by the ONS.

This is a snapshot of the number of local units (in this case, individual branches) open on a specific date in March. In 2020, it was March 13, just before the lockdown restrictions began.

Which? found that while 2020 saw the lowest number of branch closures (368) in several years, as banks put their plans on hold due to the pandemic, the number of closures planned for 2021 is already higher than in 2020.

TSB will close 155 branches this year, while Santander will close 111. HSBC is closing 82, Barclays will close 63 branches by the end of the first quarter, while M&S Bank will close all in-store branches by the end of the year. summer. when he stops offering current accounts.

Gareth Shaw, which one? Head of Money, said: “The branch networks have continued to shrink over the past year, despite the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) asking companies to reconsider the closures, so it is essential that banks provide their customers with reasonable access to banking services.

“This is why the government urgently needs to implement its draft legislation to protect cash, which will make the financial regulator responsible for the treasury system. As part of these obligations, it should investigate whether people’s access to cash is adversely affected by the branch. closures or restricted opening hours and take action if necessary. “

A growing number of people using online banking – potentially boosted by the pandemic – as well as falling traffic and the cost of running branches (the FCA has set the average cost at £ 590,000 per year) could act as an incentive to cut back more branches.

ONS figures showed that by early 2020, 76% of people had used online banking in the previous three months, up from 73% in 2019.

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However, this ranges from about 90% of 16-44 year olds to 69% of 55-64 year olds and 49% of 65+ year olds.

Given the impact of the pandemic, HSBC UK said the number of customers using branches has fallen by a third over the past five years.

A spokesperson for UK Finance, the trade association for the UK banking and financial services industry, said: “More and more customers are choosing to use new technology to manage their money when and where they want it. are suitable, especially during the pandemic.

“But technology is not for everyone and bank branches continue to play an important role in the lives of local communities, which means decisions to close them are never taken lightly. The industry has been particularly attentive to supporting the most vulnerable customers with a series of initiatives including dedicated hotlines, cash delivery and third-party access cards for caregivers.

“We are working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority on the implementation of their branch and ATM shutdown or conversion guidelines, building on recent collaborative work that has allowed nine out of ten branches to remain open during locking. “

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