As Britons embrace digital banking, more branches face the chop

LONDON Tue Jul 8, 2014 4:50am IST

Men speak on their mobile phones outside a Royal Bank of Scotland office in the City of London August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/Files

Men speak on their mobile phones outside a Royal Bank of Scotland office in the City of London August 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britons are using internet and mobile banking for transactions worth nearly 1 billion pounds ($1.7 billion) a day and branch use is falling sharply, according to the British Bankers Association and accountancy firm EY.

In response, banks are expected to close more unprofitable branches while they invest in mobile and online services for customers who want to bank while on the move.

Internet and mobile banking is now used for transactions worth 6.4 billion pounds a week in Britain, up from 5.8 billion last year, the report showed. Banking apps for mobile devices have been downloaded more than 14.7 million times - up 2.3 million just since January - while internet banking services are typically receiving 7 million log-ins each day.

The report also forecast spending on contactless cards would rise to 6.1 million pounds a week this year from 3.2 million in 2013.

"This report shows just how enthusiastically the British public is embracing mobile banking contactless cards and a range of other consumer-friendly banking technologies," said BBA Chief Executive Anthony Browne.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) said last month it was inevitable that it would close more of its 1,900 branches after branch transactions fell by 30 percent over the past 3 years. Barclays (BARC.L), Lloyds (LLOY.L) and HSBC (HSBA.L) are also expected to close branches, according to industry sources.

The Campaign for Community Banking Services, a lobby group, has warned that further closures could have a damaging impact on smaller rural communities that rely on local branches for their banking services and called for measures such as branch sharing to avoid those which are the last left in a particular area being shut down.

But the BBA said branches would remain integral to banking in the 21st century. It said 2,274 bank branches had been refurbished in the past two years, underlining banks' commitment to their high street outlets.

"Day-to-day branch use is falling sharply and while the size of these networks will decline, high street outlets will remain important for those bigger moments, such as when a customer takes out a mortgage, wants to assess their financial options or resolve a complaint," the report said.

($1 = 0.5877 British Pounds)

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Sophie Walker)

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