It has recently been reported that more than 6,000 bank branches have closed in the UK since 1990. Figures from The Annual Abstract of Banking Statistics show that banks have reduced their network by 27% since 1995. Meanwhile, in the same period, the building society branch network has reduced by 5% and post offices by 18%.
These figures are a major concern for Stephen Karle, operations director of West Bromwich, who is now urging financial organisations to think carefully before closing branches.
His comments follow the recent announcement that Birmingham Midshires is to close 48 branches. Since then, West Brom has seen a massive increase in business. Nevertheless, Karle argues that although the added business is good news for the society, it is bad news for traders and local people who are being denied a choice and a local service.
The end of September announcement of the planned closure of the Wednesbury branch of Birmingham Midshires has seen West Brom opening on average 30 accounts a day. This equates in this one branch alone, to a 100% increase in savings business worth over 2.5m, as well as an increase in mortgage applications.
West Brom is now the only financial institution in Wednesbury. A similar story also exists in Stone Cross on the edge of West Bromwich, where the last bank closed 10 years ago. Again West Brom is the only financial service available for local people.
Karle, says: Although we welcome an increase in business, I am deeply saddened for local people and traders who are being forced to travel further and further a field for a local financial service provider. I cannot accept that the days of the branch network has died, otherwise why would over 600 new savings accounts be opened in this one branch alone.
He adds: West Brom has opened three new branches in Telford, Tamworth and Kings Heath in Birmingham in the past 18 months. A new branch in Kidderminster will be opened shortly. All our research shows that local people want and need a local service. Building societies and banks have always been a fundamental part of community life. If that evaporates, what chance do communities have of long-term survival? One thing is for certain, our members know the West Brom will always be there and Wednesbury is a clear indication our decision is right.