Is Norwich and Peterborough closure the death knell for banks on our high streets?
- Credit: Mark Bickerdike Photography
There was once a time when the local bank was fixture on every high street, alongside the post office and the pub.
But those days appear to be numbered, with Norwich and Peterborough Building Society becoming the latest high-street name to announce a string of closures.
The news it will close 28 branches – with the remainder being rebranded – comes just days after HSBC announced it would close 62 branches, while Lloyds Bank will have completed a three-year plan to close 400 branches by the end of the year.
The consumer magazine Which? says the UK's biggest banks closed 1,046 branches in the past two years.
The reason, the banks say, is because customers prefer to bank by phone or online: at N&P, just 23% of customers visited in person last year, while at HSBC only 7% of customer interaction happened in a branch.
But the demise of the high street branch is not an inevitability, said Robin Carnaby, a director at Lovewell Blake Financial Planning in Norwich, who said they still have their place.
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'There are lots of things people can access online, such as the switching service, or the government's pensions gateway,
'But there are big life decisions that we make, which not many people like to make them on their own,' he said.
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'They want the security of talking to someone who has that financial security behind them, and the experience of having done it before.'
And while technology has made life easier for customers to move their money around – cutting the five working day wait for money to clear, for example – security remains a big concern, said Mr Carnaby.
'We hear all the time about scams where people contact you by phone or online and try to steal from you without you realising it. Having a branch to go to is reassuring for many people,' he added.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb will meet N&P managers today to discuss support for rural customers.
'It's disturbing for those who rely on their bank branch, but there's no escaping the trend.
'Many of us aren't going into banks as often as we used – it's the same with me. We can't pretend it's not an issue.'
N&P has also closed its current accounts, forcing its 400,000 customers to look elsewhere.
Swifter switching services may also have reduced customer loyalty and hit banks and building societies, said Mr Carnaby, as savers flit between banks for introductory deals without taking the more lucrative products such as mortgages.
We asked for your views in a poll on EDP24. Here are the results...
Although there is a reluctance to see banks disappear from the high street most of our readers who responded to a poll on our website visit a branch more than once a month.
Only 3pc of people visit a bank branch on a daily basis while one in 10 said they never visit a high street lender these days and 29pc said they used them a few times a year.
Just over a quarter (26pc) visit their bank branch once a week with a further 13pc visiting fortnightly.
Of our respondents 19pc said they visited once a month.
This means more than half visit their bricks and mortar bank fewer than 12 times a year.
Despite this nearly three quarters of you (71pc) thought high-street banks were still an important resource in towns, answering yes to the question 'Do we still need bank branches on our high streets?'
Just 6pc thought they could be done away with as you could do everything you needed online, while 23pc thought some branches should remain open to give customers the choice of how to do their banking.
When was the last time you went into a bank?
If you can remember, you're probably in the minority.
Yet most of us use their services every day: withdrawing money at the cash point, paying for your lunch with your contactless card, settling your gas bill online, paying your rent with your mobile app.
But just one in every 14 customer transactions at HSBC last year took place in a branch.
Across the high street banks, everyday processes have been handed over to machines, saving on staff costs. For the younger generation, this has become the new norm, but many older customers rely on their banks, and relationships built up over decades – and they are concerned.
Mobile banks have been suggested as a compromise, allowing customers to see their bank face to face, but it is hard to see that as a long-term solution.
With not enough of us using branches it simply does not make sense to pay top-rate overheads when the back-office work can be done out of town or centralised.
You can usually trust a bank manager to have done their maths.