I wrote about bank closures and access to cash in March when I was advised that the last two branches of Barclays within the constituency were closing. Now Nat West have decided to do the same thing and close their last two branches located with the constituency. Having looked into this the reality is that the nature of banking is changing. This has been happening for some time with the increased use of online banking and has been accelerated by the pandemic.
I fully appreciate that some people prefer to visit a branch and indeed it can be a particular issue for the vulnerable and elderly who do not necessarily have access to online banking and who rely on being able to get to a local branch. Ihave therefore looked into what provisions have been and are being made to address these concerns.
In order to try to ensure that there is access to banking facilities in the community for those who need it the Government has been supporting the Post Office’s relationship with the banks. I do have a concern on the increased pressure on post office branches that could be a result of this and I have raised this independently.
For access to cash there are still free to use ATMs and Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, provide a search facility to enable customers to use their postcode to find their nearest one. Details of these can be found at link.co.uk/consumers/locator.
Decisions on closing branches are commercial decisions for the banks and not one in which the government can intervene. However there is an industry-wide agreement which aims to help minimise the impact of bank branch closures on customers and communities. It is supported by the Government, the FCA, and the main high street banks. This agreement is known as the Access to Banking Standard. It applies once the decision to close a branch has been taken. It is designed to ensure that customers affected by branch closures receive sufficient communication and clarity on the reasons for the closure, and adequate support in accessing alternative banking services.
The banking industry is working together to look at the issue and UK Finance has been established as the industry voice. Together with the largest retails banks and building societies the Access to Cash Action Group has been set up to ensure that cash access will be available for individuals and businesses now and in the future. I have raised the possibility of different banks sharing facilities and was pleased to learn that under the umbrella of the Access to Cash Action Group the major banks are looking to identify new ways of sharing physical services where needed. Bank Hubs are beginning to come forward although it does take time to find suitable premises that are fully accessible and secure enough for banking services. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has taken an interest in this and has responded to the initiative. I will watch with interest to see how this progresses.
Looking forward, the use of technology makes new ways of working possible and the banks are helping to educating customers on how to use these channels securely and simply. Telephone banking has been with us for some while and more recently video banking enables customers to discuss issues and services face to face with a Video Banker. There are robust security features inbuilt to protect customers.
In short the government and the industry are working together to meet the changes and challenges going forward. We are in a time of transition, and it will take time for these changes to bed in.