More than a third of the UK’s bank branches have shut their doors since 2015 while hundreds of those that remain have slashed their opening hours, new research from Which? reveals. The consumer champion investigated the bank branch network between January 2015 and August 2019 and found there were 3,303 closures (34%) in that period as banks continued to shut branches at an alarming rate – reducing the overall branch network from 9,803 to 6,549.

The closures were primarily driven by the ‘Big Four’ banks, with RBS Group cutting its network by 56 percent. This was primarily driven by the Royal Bank of Scotland, which closed a staggering 74 percent (412 closures) of its branches across the UK.

Natwest – part of the RBS Group – closed by far the most branches overall: a whopping 638, just under half of their network (49%). Ulster Bank, also part of the same banking group, closed 35 branches (44%) in Northern Ireland. Which? found that HSBC reduced its network by 42 percent with 442 closures, and Barclays closed at least a third of its branches (33% and 481 closures), although the true figure could be higher as the bank did not share full closure information with Which?.

Lloyds Banking Group shut a quarter (25%) of its network, with Lloyds Bank closing 404 branches (31%), Bank of Scotland shutting 95 branches (32%) and Halifax closing 70 branches (11%).

Outside the ‘Big Four’ banks

  • Co-op closed over two-thirds of its network (69%,152 closed).
  • First Trust closed half (50%, 15 closed).
  • Clydesdale closed almost half (47%, 60 closed).
  • Yorkshire Bank closed more than two-fifths (45%, 74 branches).
  • Santander closed a third (32%, 294 branches)

In contrast, Nationwide retained an impressive 96 percent of its branches, following a pledge to keep its last branch in any town or city open until at least May 2021. Of all the UK’s bank branches that remain open, 298 are now operating with reduced opening hours of four days a week or less.

Eleven branches – all in Scotland – open for just one day a week, while 45 branches nationwide open for just two days a week. Which? also analysed the data at constituency level, finding the worst-hit areas were typically rural. There is now not a single bank branch in the entire Wentworth and Dearne constituency in Yorkshire, which has a population of 98,000.

The other hardest-hit constituencies are North East Derbyshire and Stoke-on-Trent North, both of which lost six branches, equating to over four-fifths (86%) of their network. Central Devon saw an 81 percent reduction, losing 13 branches, while Carmarthen East and Dinefwr lost four-fifths (80%) of its network, with 12 branches having closed.

Overall, Wales was the hardest-hit region, having lost over two-fifths of its network (43%, 239 branches). This was followed by the North West (40%, 424 branches), South West (39%, 370 branches), Scotland (38%, 396 branches), and Yorkshire and The Humber, which lost over a third of its branches (37%, 265 branches).

In some areas, banks offer “mobile branches,” which provide a range of everyday finance services but they simply do not offer the same convenience of access as a bank branch. These can be scant consolation for a dedicated branch and risk leaving many customers struggling to carry out their banking needs through a very limited window of service.

Which? recognises that the shift towards online banking offers great benefits and convenience, but if banks close physical branches they must communicate effectively with communities and ensure people have all the support they need to make the most of digital alternatives.

With around a third (30%) of the UK population still not using online banking, banks must also explore more innovative ways to ensure those who rely on face-to-face banking are able to access it.

Which? has also recently written to the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, calling on the government to take action to guarantee people’s ability to access and pay with cash, ensuring that millions of people who rely on it as a payment method are not left behind as bank branches and ATMs close and digital payments grow in popularity.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said “Banks are closing their branches at an alarming rate, which risks shutting many people out of vital financial services and affecting their ability to access their own cash.

“Bank branches play a crucial role within communities, serving consumers and businesses alike. The industry must ensure no-one is left behind by the digital transition and that when banks shut their doors they don’t shut their customers out of important banking services.”

Closures by bank from January 2015 to August 2019

Brand Name

Jan 15 branches open

Aug 19 branches open

closed since Jan 15

new between Jan 15, Aug 19

% closed between Jan 15, Aug 19

RBS

557

145

412

0

74

Co-op

220

68

152

0

69

First Trust (NI)

30

15

15

0

50

NatWest

1295

657

638

0

49

Clydesdale

127

67

60

0

47

Yorkshire

164

90

74

0

45

Ulster Bank (NI)

79

44

35

0

44

HSBC

1065

624

442

1

42

Barclays

1449**

972

481**

4

33

Bank of Scotland

293

198

95

0

32

Santander

922

629

294

1

32

Lloyds

1290

886

404

0

31

Bank of Ireland

36

28

8

0

22

TSB

630

544

89

3

14

Danske

47

41

6

0

13

Halifax

665

595

70

0

11

Nationwide

696

674

26

4

4

Virgin

75

73

2

0

3

Coventry

70

70

0

0

0

Cumberland

34

34

0

0

0

M&S

29

29

0

0

0

Metro

30

66

0

36

0

** Figures are likely to be higher – Barclays have not provided full closure numbers.