It is a sad fact that the number of high street bank branches in local communities is diminishing. In East Hampshire, some have closed in recent months, including HSBC in Alton, and some are earmarked for closure later this year, e.g. Lloyds in Liphook. From the banks' point of view, these closures are necessary as there just aren't the numbers using them anymore to make the branches commercially viable.
Many of us now bank online or via our telephones and do so confidently. We therefore have little need to visit a physical bank branch. However, for those who choose not to use online or telephone banking or don't have the means to do so, branches remain an important way of managing household tasks, such as paying bills, or seeking advice on financial matters, such as probate and mortgages.
While I do not have the power to stop banks from closing their branches, I think it's essential that we campaign for decent alternative provision for those customers that need it. This could be maintaining the network of post office 'everyday banking' counters as a minimum and looking to extend the services they can provide to customers to try and fill the gaps left by branch closures.
We also need to look at the community hub scheme Cash Access UK - Home. I'm currently making the case for a community hub in East Hampshire so watch this space for updates.
Thinking outside the box here will be important too. So looking at whether counter facilities can be provided from existing facilities in the community - for example the Barclays counter in Petersfield Library.
We need to put the pressure on banks to make sure that those customers who value and need a physical banking presence, get one.
Financial Conduct Authority - consultation on Access to Cash (Dec 23 - Feb 24)
The FCA recently consulted on improving access to cash in villages, towns and cities. The consultation proposes a "new regulatory regime, which would require banks and building societies to assess and fill gaps, or potential gaps, in cash access provision that significantly impact consumers and businesses. " This could mean that banks would need to do a full assessment of the impacts of a bank branch closure on a local community before closing its doors for good. It's also looking at the criteria for deciding which locations are suitable for banking hubs and how the assessments should be carried out. This is an important issue for us in East Hampshire where we have seen many banks close across our towns in recent years, particularly in places like Bordon. I have responded to this consultation and my response can be found below.