November 13, 2018 / 1:31 PM / 10 months ago

British bank standards head calls for action over branch closures

LONDON (Reuters) - Small businesses are being damaged by the closure of branches by British banks who need ways to collaborate on sharing, the Banking Standards Board (BSB) said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO - A poster informs customers that a branch of Nat West Bank is now closed, in Hale, Britain, December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Phil Noble

“The issue of branch closures needs to get higher up everybody’s agenda,” BSB chair Colette Bowe told the British parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, adding that she has already taken it up with the banking industry’s trade body.

“This is a very much a small business issue. If you are trying to bank your takings and you have to drive 20 miles to bank your takings, that’s not good,” Bowe said.

Members of parliament and consumer groups are worried that communities are being isolated as online banking cuts the number of customers visiting a branch, making it vulnerable to closure.

Alison Cottrell, chief executive of the BSB said a “space” may be needed for banks to discuss “collaboration” on branch closures and branch sharing.

UK Finance, which represents banks, said decisions on branch closures are never taken lightly, and major lenders have made arrangements for customers to do their day-to-day banking at more than 11,500 post offices nationwide.

“Banks are also investing in new ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach more rural communities,” UK Finance said.

MPs questioned whether the BSB, which was set up in a bid to improve conduct standards at banks after a string of scandals, was having much impact as more customers face protracted technical glitches.

“What’s the point of your organisation?” asked John Mann after listing a string of banks fined for misconduct.

Cottrell said the BSB does not want statutory powers, which should be left to regulators.

However, bankers were still too afraid to admit mistakes to colleagues, she added.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Alexander Smith

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