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Barclays Closure Reflects Concerning Trend

On 8 September, 2023, Barclays Bank permanently closed its Market Street branch in St Andrews. This move underscores a broader trend across North East Fife, where major banks are downsizing their physical locations in response to changing customer preferences in the digital age.

A spokesperson for Barclays acknowledged this development commenting, "Our customers' behaviour has evolved significantly in recent years, with the majority now opting for online banking. This shift is clearly reflected at the St Andrews branch, and as we adapt, we are exploring innovative ways to support our customers by maintaining a community presence and offering options for those who still require in-person assistance."

Internal data from Barclays’ website backs this statement revealing that in 2022, 97% of individuals who frequented the St Andrews branch also accessed digital banking options. Moreover, the bank noted that fewer than 10 customers relied solely on this branch for their financial needs, while 16% used nearby branches in the last 12 months.

Bank of Scotland is taking a similar approach, with plans to close its Cupar and Falkland branches in December and May of this year respectively. According to the bank’s website, there has been a significant decline in transactions by personal customers over the past five years, with a 73% decrease at the Cupar branch and a 52% decrease at the Falkland branch.

Wendy Chamberlain, the Member of Parliament (MP) representing North East Fife, expressed concern about these region-wide closures, highlighting the reduction in local banking choice and the inconvenience faced by customers who still rely on in-person services.

She said, “It is clear that there has been a major shift towards online banking which presents challenges to high street banks. However, I don’t think that closures are inevitable, and indeed we have seen that with Nationwide’s decision to maintain its network.”

With support from Willie Rennie, Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Fife, Chamberlain strongly encouraged Barclays and Bank of Scotland to reconsider the closures' enduring impact on local communities. Additionally, Chamberlain presented a petition opposing the branch shutdown to Parliament and engaged in discussions with LINK and the Cash Action Group, organisations that implement alternative cash and banking solutions after branch closures.

In place of its Market Street branch, Barclays has introduced a Barclays Local banking hub at the library in Church Square. This initiative allows customers to engage with clerks face-to-face and access resources comparable to those offered at traditional branches, albeit without counter or cash services.

“I think that banking hubs are a key solution to meeting people’s needs. They can provide services to customers of a number of different banks and preserve a greater degree of consumer choice.” Chamberlain said.

“I am glad to see that Barclays has upheld its commitment to provide some continued presence in St Andrews with a community banking service in the library on Church Square. However, I believe that banks need to do more collectively to ensure that everyone can access in-person services,” she continued.

As the banking landscape develops and online options gain prominence, the closure of physical branches highlights the challenge of adapting to new trends while supporting those who still rely on traditional services.

Image: William Starkey

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