The rate of bank branch closures in Wales has rapidly accelerated in the last four years with more than 50 branches shutting their doors each year, new analysis from Which? reveals.
The consumer champion has tracked bank branch closures across the UK since 2015 and found 216 have closed in Wales in the period up to the end of 2018, the equivalent of 54 a year.
This suggests the rate of closures has rapidly accelerated in recent years. Previous FCA figures showed that 148 branches closed between 2012 and 2017 – the equivalent of 30 a year.
NatWest has shut the most branches (70) in Wales between 2015 and 2018. This is followed by HSBC who closed 46 branches in this same period, then Barclays (41) and Lloyds (27).
Rapid bank branch closures are further compounded by the loss of cash machines, as new Which? research reveals Wales has lost nearly 300 (272) cashpoints, including 178 free-to-use machines, in the 15 months between December 2017 and March 2018.
Recent Which? research suggests cash is a vital back up for when digital systems fail. One in eight (12%) Welsh consumers were unable to use their debit or credit card in the last year due to a technical failure, leaving some unable to pay for their goods or services.
Today, Which? will give evidence to the National Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee for its Access to Banking inquiry, and will warn Assembly Members that without urgent action millions of people risk being left behind as bank branches and cash machines continue to shut at a rapid rate.
Which? is calling on the government to deliver on its pledge to protect access to cash while it is still needed, and believes legislation is necessary to ensure that people have the freedom to pay for goods and services in whatever way they need too.
Which? is concerned that the rate of cashpoint and branch closures is not being driven by consumer interests and risks stripping Welsh communities of their cash access before they are ready. Previous Which? research has shown that older generations and low-income households rely on cash the most, so are more likely to be impacted by these rapid changes to the cash landscape.
Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at Which? Said:
“Welsh communities are being hit by a double whammy of soaring bank branch closures and cash machines vanishing at an alarming rate – leaving many people at risk of being stripped of cash access.
“The UK government has committed to protecting access to cash, but Which? is warning that without urgent action to manage these changes, millions of people could be shut out of using cash and everyday banking services before they are ready.”