Evolving customer expectations, rising cost of living, and the small matter of a global pandemic have created a tough environment for the UK high street.
Far from solely applying to your local Wilko, the changes have affected banks and building societies - many saw footfall decrease during Covid-19 and never return to pre-pandemic levels.
In the towns where we operate, five bank branches have closed this year. In Thatcham, we're the last financial provider with a bricks-and-mortar presence. It's a trend reflected across the country. Some may ask whether there’s any point in physical branches anymore.
My answer would be an emphatic ‘of course!’ – here’s why.
Lots of us know elderly people who struggle with technology, or who prefer people and passbooks over contactless and call centres. However, it’s not only skill levels that pose problems – access and safety play a part too. According to Age UK, 46% of adults aged 65 and above are unable navigate the internet ‘safely’ (the inability to keep log in details secure, or update a password, for example), whilst nearly 3 million don’t use the internet at all.
Many members visit us not only for savings and mortgage needs, but for a chat. Social isolation is a critical issue, and for some, a conversation with us may be the only one they have all day. Aside from a friendly face, transacting in person allows us to check in – our teams are trained in spotting signs of financial abuse or fraud and can help customers (and their savings) stay safe.
It’s not just a concern for older generations
Those on low incomes or facing financial difficulties can also lack the tools to manage their finances online, and accessibility barriers for many customers with disabilities remain. People of all ages and from all walks of life rely on the trusted advice, customer service, and safe spaces branches provide. Individuals with complex financial situations and those who have suffered a bereavement are just two more examples that spring to mind.
In a summer statement about their Cash Access Policy, the government said people living in urban areas should have access to deposit and withdrawal services within 1 mile of home, whilst those in rural areas should have access to equivalent services within 3 miles.
We agree - it's why we're not only keeping our branches open, but continuing with a programme of refurbishments to ensure they stay fit for purpose in a changing retail landscape. Our refurbished Newbury branch has just celebrated its first anniversary, whilst our Winchester branch re-opened after a facelift in October 2023. We have plans to improve our Thatcham branch next.
Our branches will remain on the high street through the good times and the bad, for those who prefer to transact traditionally, and for those who have no other choice.
To find out where your nearest branch is, click here. We hope to see you soon.