Over recent years bank and building society branches have been closing. The trend appears to be accelerating as banking groups argue that it’s driven by a rapid increase in online and mobile banking, while they are facing a rapid decline in the number of people walking in branches.
Branches sold off
Many of these branches were sold off by the banks on long leases many years ago, though some will be owned by the banks themselves. Some of these properties will come to market for sale, while others will be put up to let by their current landlord owners.
The bank branches are invariably substantial buildings is prominent locations and many will make ideal investments for conversion, whether this be for residential, office, restaurant or retail outlets.
The banks to close are NatWest branches, as well as eleven Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). They have announced the imminent closures of 21 and 11 branches respectively, 32 branches in all.
The closure sites will be around Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Twickenham in London – see the list below.
Shift to online banking
Nat West has said that most of its customers are moving to banking online, shifting to mobile and online banking with fewer and fewer customers visiting branches. That’s basically why the banking group has decided to close these high street “bricks and mortar” locations. Covid has been an active ingredient in accelerating the already established trend for bank customers to move online.
The groups says that the vast majority of its staff at these closing down branches will be redeployed to other suitable roles within the branch network, though it says that in all with this current closure scheme 12 positions are under review and will be eligible for voluntary redundancy.
Banks closing is not only devastating for staff, the disruption it causes for many small businesses is hard to handle when cash taking businesses are faced with long journeys to bank their daily takings. One effect is the pressure on consumers and businesses to move ever closer to a cashless society.
A NatWest spokesperson has said:
“We understand and recognise that digital solutions aren’t right for everyone or every situation, and that when we close branches we have to make sure that no one is left behind.
“We take our responsibility seriously to support the people who face challenges in moving online, so we are investing to provide them with support and alternatives that work for them.”
Nat West is by no means alone in reporting branch closures which are bringing about a major change in the dynamics in many high streets – it’s another reason for people not to come into town centres and shop in other stores while they’re there.
In total Lloyds and the Halifax announced 48 site closures in 2021 and the TSB annoced last November that a further 70 branches would close. 111 branches where closed by Santander up to last summer, while HSBC shut 82 branches in 2021.
The banking group is just the latest in a long line of institutions deciding to shut down bricks and mortar branches as they shift their focus to online banking. Banks, like many other high street retailers, are realising that the future lies online, or at least, for many physical product retailers, a form of hybrid system is emerging where online is combined with in store.
For the majority of bank customers nothing will change when they already do their banking online, but for many who cannot, or do not, bank online, these closures will be more worrying.
NatWest says it will be contacting its most vulnerable customers who will be affected by these latest closures and will be providing a cash delivery service. These people will also be able to use their local Post Office for the in-person transactions they need.
Towns, local authorities in these closure locations will however worry about the damage this does to their local high street, with its huge knock-on effect for local businesses.
Dr Jackie Mulligan, an expert at the Government’s High Streets Task Force, told iNews.co.uk:
“Following the TSB closures announced late last year, this news is yet another shattering blow to the UK high street, which is already reeling after nearly two years of pain.
“The shift online is irreversible, but so, too, is the damage that a bank leaving a high street can cause for the shops that surround it.
“Local shops need their local communities more than ever and the gradual retreat of banks, which bring all-important footfall, poses another existential threat. More important than ever, now, it is vital we support our local high street businesses.”
NatWest branches due to close:
Bulwell and Hucknall
Manchester Spinningfields Square
Piccadilly and New Bond Street
Windsor & Eton
Derby Crompton House.
RBS branches due to close:
Leeds Park Row
Leicester Market Street
London Child & Co
Nottingham City Office
Southampton High Street