Customers and local communities will now receive more timely, improved notification and support on bank branch closures with UK Finance’s latest update to its ‘Access to Banking Standard’¹.
The Standard, which will now be supervised by the independent Lending Standards Board (LSB), builds on recommendations proposed by Professor Russel Griggs in his independent review of the Access to Banking protocol last year, and aims to help minimise the impact of bank branch closures on customers and local communities.
The LSB will oversee the operation of the Standard, and ensure that the 12 banks and building societies which have signed up to the Standard fulfil their requirements, and that the intended outcomes for customers are reached. The LSB will therefore independently monitor and report on its application by those banks and buildings societies, as well as identifying and sharing best practice.
The industry-wide agreement, which has the support of Government, the regulator, and the main high street banks, will see customers affected by closures receive improved notification of potential branch closures; greater clarity on the reasons for the closure, as well as banks providing more direct and proactive help for those seeking to access banking via other means in the run up to the closure.
David Pickering, Chief Executive of the Lending Standards Board, said: “For voluntary standards to be credible they need to be independently monitored and enforced. The LSB is, therefore, pleased to have been selected to oversee the new Access to Banking Standard. Our approach will be to ensure firms are delivering the intended customer outcomes through the application of the new Standard.”
The original industry-wide agreement, which launched in March 2015, included an agreement with Government to conduct a ‘one year on’ review. The protocol set out a number of requirements, including a pre-closure assessment, publishing an impact assessment and ensuring continued provision of alternative ways to bank. Banks also agreed to engage with local communities ahead of branch closures, following their announcement.
The new Standard retains these features, and incorporates a series of recommendations presented by Professor Griggs, including:
- Banks, where possible, will engage with customers and stakeholders as soon as possible after they have made the decision to close a branch and not wait until 12 weeks before, which will be the minimum standard not the norm;
- Banks will engage more directly with their older or more vulnerable customers when a branch closes to help them better explore the alternatives available to them;
- Banks will ensure that skilled personnel are available to help customers who continue to require assistance;
- On the Impact Assessment, which the banks have to produce for each closure:
- Impact Assessments will be spilt into two parts with the reasons for closure being available to customers at least 12 weeks in advance of the closure of the branch, and the second part being published once the bank has finished its post announcement engagement with customers and stakeholders. This will set out what issues were raised and what the bank has done to mitigate them;
- Impact Assessments should be more specific to the branch they relate to;
- The meaning of key words in the Impact Assessments will be made clear so that there is no confusion on meaning between the bank and its customers.
The Standard will apply in full to all bank branch closures announced after 1 May 2017, and to any future communications regarding closures previously announced but actually closing after 1 August 2017.
Stephen Jones, Chief Executive of UK Finance, said: “Banking is in the midst of a customer-led revolution with more people than ever before making use of digital innovation and alternative ways to bank to help manage their money on a daily basis.
“However, banks are very aware of the role branches play in the community and conscious that customers and businesses should not be left behind. That is why decisions to close branches are never taken lightly and why it remains important that customers continue to be able to access banking services if a local bank branch closes.
“Following Professor Griggs’ recommendations, the latest Access to Banking Standard in conjunction with the independent oversight provided by the LSB will play a vital role in making sure customers and communities are engaged with and receive continued support in accessing alternative ways to bank.”
Martin Kearsley, Banking Director with Post Office commented: “We welcome the announcement of the new Access to Banking Standard. Improving notification and raising awareness about alternative ways to bank in every community are key factors in helping local economies adapt when bank branches close. In partnership with UK Finance and our banking industry colleagues, we are proud to support communities across the UK with their banking needs.”
For more information please contact the UK Finance press office on 020 7216 8989.
Notes to Editors
- The Standard will apply in full to all bank branch closures announced after 1 May 2017, and to any closures previously announced but actually closing after 1 August 2017, and will not apply retrospectively to communications issued prior to these dates.
- For any other closures in the period running up to the 1 August, the former Access to Banking Protocol continues to apply.
- The following banking groups have signed up to the new Access to Banking Standard:
- Bank of Ireland
- The Co-operative Bank
- Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank
- Danske Bank
- First Trust Bank
- HSBC UK
- Lloyds Banking Group
- Nationwide Building Society
- Royal Bank of Scotland
- Santander UK
- The Post Office’s 11,600 branches lie at the heart of every community across the UK, providing continued easy access to all UK bank accounts for consumers and local businesses’ daily cash banking needs and helping local high streets thrive. Last year Post Office branches handled over 110 million transactions for customers of our banking partners.