HSBC said on Tuesday that it planned to close 82 of its high street bank branches in the UK between April and September this year as its customers shift towards telephone and internet banking.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for the changes that we are making,” said Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s head of network, emphasising that the shift was already underway before the pandemic accelerated it.
“It hasn’t pushed us in a different direction but reinforces the things that we were focusing on before and has crystallised our thinking. This is a strategic direction that we need to take to have a branch network fit for the future.”
The number of customers using branch banks had fallen by a third in the past five years, HSBC said, with over 90% of customer contact being conducted over the telephone or internet.
As part of a new strategy, the bank will be altering some branches to focus on cash access and establishing “pop-up” branches in some areas. These changes will come into effect by the end of the year and will mean a reduction in services offered by some remaining branches.
HSBC will have 511 physical branches in the UK following the planned closures. The bank’s shares rose 2.1% following its announcement on Tuesday.
Other banks have also made plans to reassess their working spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Financial Times reported that Virgin Money and Metro Bank intend to convert parts of branches into flexible working space, and that Lloyds Banking Group would start to test similar measures from October.
These plans have caused concern among some campaigners, who say that local bank branches provide a lifeline for those requiring access to cash and face-to-face services, as well as enabling small businesses to bank without greatly disrupting their own trade.