NORTH Wales has lost more than half of its physical bank branches since 2015, new figures reveal.

Banks and building societies have been disappearing from our high streets over several years

Consumer champion Which? report that banks say this has been driven by a rapid increase in online and mobile banking - and a steady decline in the use of physical branches.

In Wales, the number of bank branches have fallen rapidly over the last decade - being that across the nation bank numbers halved almost halved, from around 715 in 2010 to around 370 as of March 2020.

Looking across North Wales, as of January 2021, there were 63 chains serving our communities. In total, this dropped by more than half (52 per cent) since January 2015.

By the end of 2021, there will be just one bank left serving the people of Clwyd South.

The area lost 80 per cent of its banks since 2015 – and puts its residents at risk of not having any option but to travel out of town to use facilities.

The Barclays chain, on Llangollen’s Castle Street, remains to be the only physical chain left in the constituency. The branch is open for three times a week for four hours a day.

The area’s MS, Ken Skates, has been a strong advocate for several years to keep the branch up and running.

He told the Leader: “People in Clwyd South have long since known that banks’ claims they prioritise the interests and needs of their customers is just an empty soundbite – we have lost more High Street branches than any other part of North Wales.

“Over the past few years we’ve seen the big banks abandon loyal customers all over our area, with branches closed in Cefn Mawr, Chirk, Rhos and Ruabon to name just a few examples.”

The Labour politician says that, on each occasion, he has fought for cashpoints to remain and for mobile banks in the affected areas - but admitted it’s just “not the same”.

He continued: “Sadly, a lot of these closures stem from the UK Government several years ago abandoning its agreement with the banking sector that the last branch in every community should be kept open, which our former MP Susan Elan Jones raised in the House of Commons.

“When HSBC announced it was closing its Chirk and Ruabon branches in 2016, I warned that if the UK Government didn’t act urgently more and more North Wales high streets will suffer – and that’s exactly what’s happened.

“I have had numerous discussions with Barclays about their Llangollen branch, which is the only surviving bank in Clwyd South, and in autumn 2019 received an assurance that it would remain open for at least two years.

“We are nearly two years down the line and I will be contacting the company again over the coming days to once again make the case to keep it open.”

Denbighshire Free Press:

Virtual services have seen a big boom since the pandemic broke out in 2020 - but the trend of closing banks isn't new. [Image: Getty]

Earlier this year, in his previous role as Economy Minister, Mr Skates said the Welsh Government remained on track to establish a Community Bank of Wales in 2021.

He added: “The Welsh Government has stepped in to support the many small businesses affected by the swathe of bank closures through the creation of the Development Bank of Wales and has supported people turned away from traditional banks through our Credit Union network.

“We also needed something to help tackle the mass withdrawal of traditional banks from our High Streets. Consumers’ habits are quite clearly changing, and traditional branches are not as well-used as they used to be - but closing them severely restricts consumer choice and leads to ever-increasing travel times to their nearest branch.

“The work to develop and launch a new Community Bank of Wales had begun long before coronavirus struck, but the pandemic has increased the need for it and highlighted the serious concerns many had over whether the UK’s retail banking sector is fit for social purpose.

“We couldn’t wait for the UK Government to get its act together.”

The Leader has approached Barclays for an update on its intention to remain in the heart of Llangollen.

A spokesman for the chain told us: “In October 2019, Barclays promised not to close branches in remote areas, or where it is the last bank in town for the next two years, as part of its commitment to the communities in which it operates.

“This saw over 100 branches ring-fenced and remain open until at least October 2021 - which included Llangollen branch.

“As Barclays, we constantly review the way we provide our products and services to ensure they reflect the way our customers are choosing to carry out their banking.

“As you will be aware, the vast majority of customers are prioritising digital channels for ease and convenience, while footfall to our branches is declining around 20 per cent year on year.”

Given this backdrop of evolving customer behaviour, the banking chain said it would be “unwise” to make further specific commitments concerning its network.

The spokesman continued by saying: “We are very mindful of our customers, including vulnerable customers, who have not adapted to digital banking at the same pace and that where we do make the difficult decision to close a branch, we ensure there are physical alternatives available for these customers. These alternatives include the Post Office and local free-to-use ATMs.

“In the meantime, we continue to support all of our customers with digital banking, including Tea and Teach sessions run by our Digital Eagles to help boost their confidence online.”

Denbighshire Free Press:

High street banks are vanishing from our high streets at steady rate, data from Which? shows. [Image: Getty]

The chain added that when they do take the decision to close a branch, they are committed to adhering to the Access to Banking Standard providing a minimum of 12 weeks’ notice to all impacted customers.

The spokesman stressed that no such announcement has been made to date relating to the Llangollen branch.

Clwyd South is not alone in its position as a single bank constituency – with 19 other parts of the UK down to its last bank.

Every part of Wales has lost some form of bank over the past five years - but none have suffered as much as Clwyd South.

According to a report published by UK Finance, the trade body that represents banks, 71 per cent of adults used online banking in 2017, representing 38 million people.

Close to 22 million people used mobile banking apps, and there were around 5.5 billion logins to apps last year.

Meanwhile, the average branch received 104 visits a day in 2017, compared to 140 per day in 2012, resulting in a 26 per cent fall in bank branch visits.

Banks and building societies say that this has been the main driver of closures. Customers’ banking habits are changing, and branches are needed by fewer customers.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have been vocal in our calls for commercial banks to maintain a strong presence in local communities, although banking regulation ultimately rests with the UK Government.

“It has the power to regulate the industry and ensure these vital services are available to all local residents and businesses.

“We are working hard to ensure people have access to banking services, including supporting the credit union movement, and we are committed to creating a community bank with branches across Wales.”