Banks are closing down their high street branches at an “alarming rate” of almost 60 per month, according to new research.
Analysis from consumer group Which? showed that between the start of 2015 and the end of 2018, 2868 bank and building society branches closed down or are scheduled to do so – averaging just under 60 per month.
The analysis, based on data by tracking closure announcements, also showed that branch closures have been accelerating.
So far this year, 670 branches have closed or been scheduled for closure – putting 2018 on course to overtake the number of closures in 2017, when 879 branches were shut.
The news comes as retailers continue to navigate bleak conditions on the high street, with several household names – including New Look and House of Fraser – launching CVAs that will see hundreds of store closures.
Which? said that while mobile banking trucks may visit towns and villages, they are not as convenient as a dedicated bank branch.
The firm added that mobile banking apps did not meet everyone’s needs, and do not always give people easy access to their accounts.
Which? said NatWest has closed the most number of branches, with 638 having shut, or being scheduled to close by the end of 2018.
Rounding out the top five are HSBC with 440, Lloyds with 366 and RBS with 350.
In terms of the regions, Which? said Scotland was the worst hit, with 368 branches having shut since 2015, or being scheduled to close by the end of 2018.
Next was the South East, with 361 closures, followed by the North West with 353 closures.
Which? money expert Gareth Shaw said the current rate of bank branch closures stripped customers and communities of access to the financial services they need.
“While the decision is clearly a commercial one for a bank to take, it is also crucial that banks do recognise the needs of their customers and the communities they serve, before simply shutting their doors – and their customers out,” he said.
A spokesman for trade association UK Finance said banks should only consider closing down branches once all options – such as reducing opening hours and staff numbers – have been exhausted.
“Bank branch visits have fallen by a quarter since 2012, with the development of new technology meaning it’s now easier for people to do their banking at a time and place that is convenient to them,” he said.
“You can check your balance online, pay back a friend digitally or speak your bank for advice 24/7.
“But technology is not for everyone which is why all the major banks offer day-to-day banking services through 11,500 Post Office branches.
“That means there are now more places where you can bank than ever before.
“This is important to make sure that no-one gets left behind, which is why banks are continuing to invest in new ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach out to more rural communities.”