Bank criticised for profits before branches

Amanda Jarvis

February 23, 2006

The criticism comes as a study by the University of Nottingham showed since 1995 around one in five bank and former building society branches have closed. In contrast the top ten mutual building societies have closed only one in twenty of their branches.

The research showed branch closures were most likely to happen in 'multicultural metropolitan areas'. These include many deprived and traditional manufacturing areas. The report comes in the same week as press reports that up to 10,000 post offices may close over the next four years.

The BSA say banks claim to have put “large-scale” branch closure programmes on hold, but the research finds evidence of continuing “small-scale, phased closure programmes”. At a time when the banks are reporting record profits, the report suggests even profitable branches are closed if they are not making a large enough contribution to the “bottom line.”

The study also shows building societies are more likely to take into account non-financial reasons when looking at their branch network, such as how much the branch is valued by members and the importance of personal contact.

The study highlighted the difference in branch closures between 1989 and 1995. During this time only Abbey National had converted to a bank and the number of branches closed by the [now] top ten demutualised institutions was just 3.6 per cent. After 1995, when more building societies became banks and had to deliver profits to shareholders, this shot up to 19.3 per cent.

Concerned about the impact that branch closures and lack of banking facilities can have on poorer communities, the Government has set up a Financial Inclusion Task Force to look at these issues.

Adrian Coles, director-general of the BSA, said: “Over the next few weeks we will see banks once again announcing record profits. This report is a timely reminder that the pressure to squeeze every last drop of profit has meant abandoning less lucrative customers and closing one in five of their branches.

“Former building societies are little better, and while some people may have benefited from the temporary windfall of a demutualisation, there are many more communities who today do not have a branch within easy access, as a result.

“Building societies value their branches and their members. As mutuals, they are more likely to keep their branches open and will take into account the impact a closure would have on the local community, rather than purely the bottom line, when assessing branch performance.”

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