As each month passes by, concern for the survival of the traditional brick-and-mortar bank branch increases. While statistics can prove either death or rebirth for this side of distribution on a large scale, on a more personal level, when was the last time I entered a branch? Patrick Brusnahan writes
While the death of the bank branch is announced nearly as frequently as Bitcoin (which has died 71 times since 2010), one can wonder how much life is left in the most public face of banking.
Community banking campaigners state that half of the UK’s bank branches have shut down since 1989. In 2014, approximately 479 branches were shut down with over 2,000 of Britain’s bank branches discontinued over the last decade.
The lobby group The Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) has claimed that bank branch closures could exceed the near-500 last year as already 399 have been announced, partly due to HSBC’s plans to cut down staff in an attempt to sell its UK business.
Even the Knott End branch of NatWest, featured in the bank’s advert claiming that "We will continue to provide banking services wherever we’re the last bank in town," has shut down in a move that can only be described as depressingly inevitable irony.
In comparison to other countries within Europe, the situation seems even dimmer. The UK has 150 branches per million inhabitants, compared to Spain and Italy, which have 720 and 520 respectively.
It’s hard to blame banks for shutting down branches as consumers move further towards digital solutions and further away from the physical. Looking into a branch on my local high street feels like watching an old episode of Scooby Doo, the setting completely empty bar two members of staff, either of whom could be seen dressing as a ghost to scare off meddling Millennials.
Personally, I have only been into a bank branch to purchase a product once, a product I still have to this day, despite account switching being easier than it has ever been in the United Kingdom.
If I need to transfer money, I can do it via phone. If I need cash, there are ATMs everywhere, from supermarkets to petrol stations to just outside that pub that nobody goes to.
However, despite my lack of usage, I find the bank branch strangely assuring. Seeing my bank’s logo still on a building ten minutes from my house makes me think: "If that’s still there, it can’t be doing that badly."
If something were ever to go wrong, be it a lost card or, heaven forbid, fraud, a bank branch would be my first port of call to sort everything out. The human touch cannot be neglected. It actually feels good to talk through a situation with a member of staff without typing in several random assortments of numbers and waiting on hold.
Hopefully, I am not the only one who feels this way. If so, then the bank branch has a few strings left to its bow. If not, then I may have to get used to typing in random assortments of numbers and waiting on hold.