Banks defend closures of 'under-used' branches in Wales

Bankers have defended the closure of under-used branches as campaigners say a rise has left a number of Welsh communities with no or few services.

The British Bankers' Association says more customers now go online and banks must examine branch running costs.

As the HSBC in Presteigne, Powys, closes, the bank says it is one of its least used branches.

The Campaign for Community Banking Services says 21 communities in Wales now have no bank, and 47 have one.

Supporting economy

While the campaign says rural communities are more easily identifiable, it defines an urban community as one in which there is no branch nearer than half a mile.

HSBC says its branches in both Presteigne, which is closing on Friday, and in Blaenavon, Torfaen, which is due to close on 11 May, have seen a significant decline in the numbers of customers using their services and are no longer commercially viable.

Campaigners in both communities claim businesses in the area will suffer and that elderly people reliant on public transport to bank in a nearby town will be disadvantaged.

Roger Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said banks ought to be required to retain rural branches as a condition of Treasury and Bank of England support through the credit crisis.

He said branch closures were not just inconvenient to rural communities but threatened their viability.

"It's a thing that people take for granted in cities but is absolutely essential for the economy in rural market towns," he said.

"How are we going to attract businesses into these market towns if there aren't any banking facilities?"

In respect of Presteigne, HSBC said: "The branch is only currently open 18 hours per week, but customer usage of the branch has fallen significantly over the past few years and it is now one of the most under-used branches in the country.

'Fit for purpose'

"Customers' habits are changing - they are now increasingly using branches where they work, or they are using the 24-hour convenience of internet or telephone banking.

Image caption The NatWest branch in Whitland, Carmarthenshire, has been reduced to opening one day a week

"Our network has to be 'fit for purpose' and we have to ensure that our branches are located in areas where they are used."

Brian Capon, assistant director for media at the British Bankers' Association, also stressed that cost of keeping some branches open outweighed the returns.

"Like any well-run business we've got to constantly look at the cost base and the customer base and take a long hard look at whether it's worth keeping those retail outlets open," he said.

"Clearly if you've got customers coming into the branch it is worthwhile, but if that footfall across the threshold drops you've got to take a long hard look at whether it's worth keeping that branch open.

"It's a tough decision - they don't want to close branches. They want to keep them open but at the same time they've got to be viable."

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