After a series of closures…finally a lifeline for your local bank

Major report mapping how banks plan to help preserve access to cash nationwide and high street branches is expected to be announced

A major report is expected to be announced in ten days’ time that will chart how banks plan to help maintain nationwide access to cash and high street branches.

Put together by Natalie Ceeney, chair of a group set up by the banking lobby group UK Finance to find solutions that keep cash on the high street, it will likely pave the way for the rollout of shared branches or banking hubs.

These are branches where running costs are shared among the major banks with basic banking services provided by a third party such as the post office.

Cash: Shared branches or banking hubs are branches where the running costs are shared among the major banks with basic services provided by a third party such as the post office

The Mail on Sunday has long called for a network of such branches to be set up as part of its Keep Our Cash campaign – allowing customers of all banks (including small business account holders) to do their banking in one place on the high street. can do and meet. with the representatives of their own bank on certain days.

While the details of the report are being kept under wraps – Ceeney would not be made aware of the matter last week when printed by The Mail on Sunday – it is clear that in recent months banking hubs have been tested in both Scotland (Cambuslang, near Glasgow ) and England (Rochford, Essex) have achieved great success and revitalized both communities.

As a result, new hubs are now planned for the new year, although it is clear that the exact number and location are still under discussion. As announced by the MoS in October, Ceeney is also expected to confirm that the Link ATM network will play a key role in ensuring that communities are protected from loss of access to cash. The banks must notify Link of their intention to close certain branches and free-to-use ATMs.

Link will then assess on a case-by-case basis whether a shutdown will jeopardize a community’s access to cash. If so, it has the right to order the establishment of a banking center. Such a situation is likely to arise when the closure of a bank branch renders a community bankless. In such a case, Link might insist that the hub be set up in the closing branch.

Last week, Link also confirmed that by the end of the year, 2,000 stores across the country will be offering cashback to customers without having to make a purchase.

This follows the introduction of supporting legislation by the government. Ceeney views such cashback services as critical to ensuring access to cash nationwide – and believes they are particularly invaluable in low-income areas (where many people can only afford small amounts of cash) and isolated areas. communities where a free ATM use cannot be justified on commercial grounds.

The services are also good for the small businesses they provide, as it reduces their need for cash withdrawals on a regular basis – a task made increasingly difficult by the closure of bank branches.

Ceeney’s deal with the banks won’t stop the flow of branches – a further 70 were announced last week by Spain’s TSB, bringing the total number of branches it has closed in the past four years to 330. By June next year, the number of branches will be reduced to 220. Ceeney’s report could indeed persuade other banks to bring forward closing programs. About 800 bank branches have already been cleared this year.

Derek French, a former NatWest executive, has long campaigned for the shared bank branch now hailed by Ceeney.

But the former head of the now-defunct Campaign for Community Banking Services fears that any deal Ceeney has struck with the banks at banking hubs will fall far short of what it needs.

He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I’m preparing myself to be disappointed as there are 150 locations in dire need of a banking centre.

“A handful of new hubs won’t solve the problem. And if the branches close at the rate they are now, we will need 400 hubs by 2026.’

French is also skeptical that without backing legislation, Link could struggle to force banks to agree to all the banking hubs it recommends.

The government says it is working on legislative proposals to protect cash for the long term.

While Ceeney declined to comment on her forthcoming report, she did tell MoS: “Recent branch closures are no surprise given the commercial pressures facing high street banks. However, face-to-face banking services are very important to millions. The hubs in Cambuslang and Rochford have proved popular and indicate that such hubs can provide a solution.