'One less reason to visit high streets' - Wales loses more bank branches than UK average

Sharp End Presenter Rob Osborne pays a visit to Tenby, which is set to lose another bank

Wales is not yet ready to be a cashless society - yet the number of bricks and mortar bank branches has fallen by 36%.

Physical branches with face-to-face banking is on its way out, but it's the oldest and most vulnerable who are missing out, experts say.

The next bank branch to go is Tenby's Barclays, which is set to close on November 16. Despite a population of around 5,000 people, only 28 regular customers use the branch exclusively for their banking, Barclays told ITV's Sharp End.

Cash or card? Many are using cards more but like using face-to-face services too. Credit: Sharp End

Jo Thomas, who works at sandwich shop Picnic Basket in the town, said the younger generation are happy to do everything on card - even paying 50p.

But she said: "The more conservative, older generation, like me, like to know exactly how much money we've got and how much is left to spend.

"I think (the pandemic) did move us away from cash. My kids do everything online now. They don't do anything in shops, but I think they'll come back to it. My kids like the feel of cash in their hands - they physically know they've earned it.

"The pubs all still run on a high-cash basis - I've worked a few pubs in the area and there is still a lot of cash going across the bar.

"Online banking is great, I think it's brilliant - I don't have to go to the bank to get stuff sorted. But if I'm going in for a bank loan I want to talk to somebody I know, who knows me, knows the area and knows the situation."

Rob Basini, from the Federation of Small Businesses, added: "For town centres generally, where there aren't any banks there's one less reason for customers to visit town centres."

A Barclays spokesperson said: "Our customers’ behaviour has changed significantly in recent years, with the majority choosing online banking.

"As we adapt, we are closing less well used branches whilst investing in brilliant customer service and digital technology.

"We are maintaining our community presence with alternative options for customers who still require in-person support. This includes our network of Barclays Local sites in libraries and community centres, bank pods and mobile vans, our cashback without purchase service, Shared Banking Hubs and everyday banking at the Post Office.

"We are able to confirm that a Barclays Local will be operating form The Giltar Hotel, 9 Esplanade, Tenby, from Nov 21st every Monday and Tuesday 9.00-4.30pm."

A lack of bricks and mortar banks has a big impact on communities, says Adrian Roberts, CCO at ATM network, Link.

He said: "Wales is a long way off from becoming a cashless society.

"Some of the most rural and remote parts of the UK are in Wales. There are lots of problems with using digital there, there might not be good enough 4G, 5G signal - the broadband might not work.

"There's still 10 million consumers across the UK who are dependent on cash, they are often the most elderly and vulnerable and in the least well off areas. They're not ready to move away from cash and that's why we need to keep it available for as long as possible."

Senedd Members Jack Sargeant, Mark Isherwood and Sian Gwenllian were all in agreement that community banks are the way forward. Credit: Sharp End

"It's important to try and retain as many branches as we can", Plaid Cymru MS Sian Gwenllian, said.

She added: "There is some good news in that the first community bank in the UK is being developed here in Wales - Banc Cambria. We as a party have always supported this idea."

Mark Isherwood MS, for the Conservatives, said: "Footfall has meant that we've seen the bank closures that we have. That doesn't mean we don't need to meet the needs of the remaining population. I've been calling for that for as long as I can remember as an MS."

And Labour's Jack Sargeant says community banks are the right answer.

He said: "I don't think footfall is necessarily the problem, that's what some high street retail banks have told us. I think that's fiction and what they're actually doing is closing banks clearly on the basis of more profit for their shareholders. That's not right and it's fair."

  • You can catch up on the latest episode of Sharp End here. The show airs on Monday nights, 10.45pm, on ITV Cymru Wales.