Almost 3,000 bank branches have closed in the UK since 2015 or are due to shut in 2018, according to research by the consumer group Which? Branches have shut at the rate of almost 60 per month, accelerating over the last two years. In 2017, 879 branches closed and that number looks sure to be topped in 2018.
This has caused much hand-wringing and some UK newspapers, backed by consumer groups, are actively campaigning against bank branch closures. I can understand concerns about the impact on high streets, but are they right to worry so much about the future of bricks and mortar banking?
Challenger banks are finally starting to get a foothold in the UK market and the most interesting ones are digital, such as Starling, which offers a mobile only bank account and does not have a single bank branch.
In the US, BankMobile, the digital division of Customers Bank, of which I am a director, has enjoyed huge growth amongst Millennials by offering a completely new banking experience and business model. The revenue generated from branches does not justify the rents that banks pay, whilst digital platforms can discount their customers’ fees because their costs are so low.
Virtual banking is more convenient and cheaper. It is also more in tune with its customers’ mindset and lifestyle. BankMobile’s slogan is: ‘No bull. Just bank’. It’s on the same wavelength as its customers.
The challenge now for the new generation of digital banks is to win the trust of those who have not yet made the move. A recent MoneySuperMarket survey found that more than one in three bank customers would not allow challenger banks to access their financial data from existing providers under the new Open Banking rules.