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Exclusive: close to 3,000 bank branches close in just four years

Exclusive Which? Money research reveals an avalanche of bank closures in recent years.

Exclusive: close to 3,000 bank branches close in just four years

Almost 3,000 bank and building society branches have closed or are due to close in just over four years, exclusive Which? research can reveal. 

Last week, Lloyds Banking Group announced a fresh round of branch closures this year, with 15 branches set to close. This followed the news, just the week prior, that 54 Royal Bank of Scotland branches are to be shuttered in 2018 and 2019.

In 2018, 757 bank branches have closed or are due to close, representing a blow to people who prefer to do their banking business face to face.

This comes as it was revealed that ATMs are closing at a rate of 250 a month, adding to fears that the 2.7m people who rely wholly on cash in their daily lives are at risk of being left behind.

Which banks are closing the most branches?

Our research shows that the rate of bank branch closures spiked in 2017 when at least 879 branches closed, compared with 636 the year before.

There have been 757 branches already closed this year or announced to close by the end of January 2018, raising the prospect that this worrying trend may still be accelerating.

More than 1,000 RBS Group, made up of Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest and Ulster Bank, branches will have closed between 2015 and the end of January 2019 –  638 NatWest and 404 Royal Bank of Scotland outlets.

HSBC has closed 440, although has stated that it has no further planned closures.

Lloyds Bank has closed or is due to close 396 branches. Lloyds Banking Group, which also includes Halifax and Bank of Scotland, has closed or is due to close 538 branches in total.

We have recorded 249 Barclays closures during the same period. Barclays had not verified, nor disputed, our research, and the actual figure could be higher.

Which regions have been worst hit?

Closures have not been occurring at an even rate throughout the UK. The North West was the worst hit of the UK regions, suffering 386 branch losses, and overtaking Scotland, which held the top spot in June, prior to recent announcements from RBS and Lloyds.

The South East now ties with Scotland in second place, both shedding 367 branches in the period.

Which?’s research is limited by the fact it does not capture instances where a bank has closed a branch before opening a new one in a nearby location, or has streamlined two branches into one in the same area.

This is the case with recent NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland closures, which saw Royal Bank of Scotland branches closed where a NatWest branch existed as customers are now able to bank across both networks.

Your local Post Office may also be able to conduct several basic transactions including balance checks, cash withdrawals and deposits.

Mapped: bank branch closures in 2018

Which? bank closure database, the most comprehensive of its kind, has recorded 2,961 branch closures since the beginning of January 2015, which includes branches announced to close by the end of January 2019.

The data has been obtained from all but one of the major banks (Barclays) and building societies in the UK.

We’ve compiled a postcode lookup tool and interactive map to let you find out what’s going on in your area in 2018 and January 2019.

ATM closures at all time high

Free-to-use ATMs closed at a rate of 250 a month in the five months to July. The announcement by Link, the UK’s largest cash machine network, did not include granular details about the ATMs affected, meaning we are unable to examine the overlap between bank branch closures and cash machines.

Link is under scrutiny from the Payments Systems Regulator (PSR) to guarantee cash access in remote and rural parts of the UK.

In July, a Which? Money investigation found that rural ATMs were closing at a faster rate than their urban counterparts.

Jenni Allen, managing director of Which? Money, said: ‘The rate at which free-to-use cashpoints are closing is alarming and it is clear that Link is failing on its commitment to protect access to cash for people in remote and rural areas who need it most.’

Why are bank branches and ATMs closing?

More and more of our financial lives are moving online. A 2017 report by UK Finance, the trade body that represents banks, found that 71% of adults used online banking in 2017, amounting to 38 million people.

Furthermore, debit and credit cards overtook cash and coins as the most commonly used method of payment in the UK last year.

It is thought that around 2.7m UK adults rely almost wholly on cash. Which? is concerned worried that these people, many of whom may be elderly or have mobility issues, will be left behind as banks and cash machines disappear.

The ATM situation is further complicated by changes to the interchange fee paid by your bank or building society to machine operators every time you use your card to make a free withdrawal.

Report a cashpoint

If you’ve encountered problems with a local cashpoint, such as a lengthy walk to get to it, constant breakdowns or being out of cash most of the day – we want to hear about it. Your story could help us highlight the flaws in the current system and protect your access to cash.

Tell us about problems with a cashpoint in three steps:

  1. To find your cashpoint, enter a postcode or a place name, then select the size of area around it you want to search.
  2. Click/tap the red pin for the cashpoint you want to report – a window will appear with the name of the cashpoint and the fee (if any) that it charges.
  3. Click/tap ‘Report a problem’ and complete the form to tell us what’s wrong, or ‘Report closure’ if the cashpoint shown has closed down.

If your cashpoint isn’t shown, let us know here.

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