Santander is to close 111 of its branches this summer, reducing its network from 563 to 452.
This means that Santander will have shut 470 of its branches since 2015, which amounts to axing half of its network over the last seven years.
This is the fifth-highest volume of closures during this period, behind Barclays (650), NatWest (639), HSBC (556) and Lloyds (482).
Which branches are closing?
The table below shows which Santander branches will close by the end of August 2021.
- Find out more: where are bank branches closing?
Why is Santander closing over 100 branches?
Less than three months into 2021, Santander is already the seventh bank or banking group to announce a round of closures.
In a statement, Santander cited the fact that almost two-thirds of transactions are now online as one of the key drivers behind the decision. As with other banks making cuts this year, Santander pointed out this movement towards digital predates the pandemic.
Santander also states that the majority of the branches it is closing are within three miles of another of its branches, with the furthest being five miles away. All closing branches, the bank says, are within half a mile of at least two free-to-use ATMs and one mile from the nearest Post Office.
It’s worth noting that the Post Office is not a stand-in for a bank though, as you cannot complete more complex activities, like opening or closing an account, or talking about your bank’s financial products.
- Find out more: can the Post Office really replace bank branches?
How many bank branches are closing in total?
Including the announcement from Santander, we now know that at least 520 branches will close this year – more than in either 2019 or 2020. There is some way to go before we reach the high of 868 closures recorded in 2017.
Santander is on course to close the second-most outlets in 2021, behind TSB which will shutter 155 branches.
By the end of the year, almost 4,300 branches will have closed across the whole network since 2015 – almost 44% of them – at a rate of 12 a week. Despite the high rate, there are guidelines that banks must follow when closing a branch.
What guidelines must banks follow?
In September 2020, the FCA published its finalised guidance on the steps that banks must take before closing a branch.
The guidelines set out a number actions that banks must take when making closures, including:
- Informing the FCA of their plans as soon as possible
- Carrying out ‘robust analysis’ in terms of lost access and potential harms, especially for vulnerable customers
- Assessing alternative provisions that are available for customers
- Informing customers of the closures no less than 12 weeks in advance, including making them aware of the alternative provisions they have identified
However, banks have either closed or announced the closure of 692 branches since the guidance was introduced last year. In January, the FCA urged banks to ‘reconsider branch closures during lockdown’, as it may affect the banks’ ability to effectively communicate changes to their customers.
Urgent need for legislation
Which? has been campaigning for the urgent introduction of legislation to give the regulator the necessary power to protect the UK’s cash network.
It’s been a year since the Chancellor committed to cash access legislation, but we have seen little progress so far.
In February, Which? chief executive Anabel Hoult wrote to eight major UK banks outlining the fragile state of the cash ecosystem and asked them to make a pledge to help maintain cash access.
The letter received widespread support from banks affirming the importance of providing a cash system that can serve those who depend on it.
However, all of the responses stopped short of explicitly committing to key parts of the cash network until legislation is introduced.
Until then, banks and ATMs will continue to close, causing harm to large groups of people across the UK: research that we conducted in November last year showed that there are over 2.5 million people in the UK that depend on cash, with a further 7 million saying they would struggle without it.
While it is true that more people are banking online, it is critical that the government intervenes to ensure that cash is still protected and no-one is left behind.
- Find out more: the Which? Freedom to Pay campaign