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26 Aug 2020

Co-operative Bank to close 18 branches

Find out which Co-operative Bank branches will close by the end of the year

The Co-operative Bank has revealed plans to close 18 of its branches by December 2020, reducing its network from 68 to 50 and putting 350 jobs at risk.

Despite making no closures in 2019, by the end of this year The Co-operative Bank will have closed 170 of the 220 branches it had at the start of 2015 - a staggering 77%.

This is the highest proportion of closures of any high street bank, though second-placed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS, 74%) has cut significantly more in terms of volume, with 411 of its branches now closed.

Here we list the branches that will close and the guidelines banks must follow before closing one.

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Which branches are closing?

The table below shows which Co-operative Bank branches will close by 1 December 2020.

Why is the Co-operative Bank closing a quarter of its branches?

In a statement, Co-operative Bank CEO Andrew Bester cited a 'historically low base rate affecting the income of all banks and a period of prolonged economic uncertainty ahead' as two of the reasons behind the closures.

He also pointed to a 'continuing shift' towards more customers banking online, with fewer transactions taking place in branches.

While the bank states that the latest decision was based on 'careful analysis of branch footfall' completed before coronavirus, the news will do little to allay fears that the pandemic may lead to an acceleration in banks shutting branches.

Research conducted jointly by Metro Bank and YouGov shows that six in 10 people agree that banks have given up on the high street, with almost half of people (48%) worried that banks will continue on reduced hours or close altogether due to coronavirus.

How many bank branches are closing?

The Co-operative Bank isn't the only one shutting branches this year, with TSB (82), Barclays (59) and HSBC (28) all closing a number of banks by the end of 2020.

Both the NatWest (56) and Virgin (22) groups have pushed back closures due to the pandemic. In total, as many as 265 branches may close this year.

This is relatively tame compared to what we have seen over the last few years, with over 3,600 branches closing since the start of 2015 - 37% of the total banking network.

This is equivalent to 600 banks a year at a rate of almost 12 branches a week.

While the Co-operative Bank and RBS have closed the greatest proportion of their branches, NatWest (639) and Barclays (540) have closed the most in terms of volume, as you can see in the chart below.

What guidelines must banks follow?

When a bank closes one of its branches, it must adhere to the Access to Banking Standard - specific guidelines for what to do before, during and after closing a branch.

For example, the bank has to contact affected customers about a closure at least 12 weeks before it takes place, as well as publish an impact assessment on its website.

However, when we investigated how banks followed the Standard earlier this year, we found that even these basic requirements were not being met.

When we asked 5,116 Which? members in May 2020 about their recent experiences of losing branches, only 53% said they had been proactively informed of the closures. Some 55% of our members said they had never heard of impact assessments.

With such low levels of awareness and engagement, it is perhaps unsurprising that HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander, the Co-operative Bank, TSB, and Virgin Money all confirmed they had never reversed a decision to close a bank. NatWest Group and Barclays simply refused to comment.

The Financial Conduct Authority is currently consulting on guidance to improve the steps banks take before closing branches.

What can I do if my branch is closing?

If there are still other banks' branches local to you it could be worth switching. This has been made much easier in recent years, as our guide explains.

You can carry out some basic banking tasks at the Post Office, such as depositing or withdrawing cash.

Many banks now allow you to pay in cheques to the Post Office, or virtually via your mobile phone.

If you're happy to bank online, by phone or app, your choice of banks multiplies. You can find our Recommended Providers here.