Elderly Britons face living in 'banking deserts', a charity warned today as branches continue to close across the UK with Virgin Money revealing 39 of
Elderly Britons face living in ‘banking deserts’, a charity warned today as branches continue to close across the UK with Virgin Money revealing 39 of its sites will shut.
The high street bank said it will close almost a third of its branches due to changing demand, which has seen fewer people go into banks in favour of online services.
The sites affected – which include eight branches in London – have seen the number of customer transactions fall by an average of 43 per cent since the pandemic hit.
But campaign group Age UK issued a warning to banks today to ensure that those who ‘desperately need physical banking services can continue to access them’.
And the Unite union said the Newcastle-based firm’s move to shut so many branches ‘will hurt some of the most vulnerable, disabled and digitally excluded customers’. The union added that more than 6,000 bank branches have now shut since 2015.
Virgin Money said it decided to close branches based on factors including footfall, transaction volumes and the number of potentially vulnerable customers nearby.
Virgin Money has revealed plans to shut 39 of its UK branches, which are shown in this map
Virgin Money’s first high street bank on Northumberland Street in Newcastle is seen in 2012
The bank, which will have 91 stores left in the UK once the closures are completed, said each branch is closing less than half a mile from the nearest Post Office.
But Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams told MailOnline today: ‘The scale of the bank branch cull over recent years only seems to be getting worse.
‘The torrent of closures are a serious blow for the millions of older people who rely on branches, particularly those who are not online or confident with mobile banking.
‘This blow is exacerbated when closures coincide with poor public transport locally, a lack of ATMs, substandard internet service and mobile black spots, making it extremely difficult for customers to access their money.’
She praised new shared Banking Hubs, which are high street spaces that can be used by customers of multiple banks, as ‘a significant step in the right direction’.
There are now seven of the sites open – located in Acton, West London; Brixham, Devon; Cambuslang, Lanarkshire; Carnoustie, Angus; Cottingham, East Yorkshire; Rochford, Essex; and Troon, South Ayrshire – plus 61 more planned across the UK over the coming year.
But Ms Abrahams said: ‘With so many branches disappearing the banks need to seriously pick up the pace of the rollout and ensure that older people are not left living in banking deserts, and those who desperately need physical banking services can continue to access them.
‘The banks have a clear responsibility to do everything they can to ensure the continued provision of essential banking services for years to come. Bank branches are a lifeline for many older people but their interests are losing out, it seems, to the allure of higher profits.’
It comes as union bosses said staff at Virgin Money have been left ‘devastated’ by the closure announcement, with 255 workers facing potential redundancy.
Unite revealed that the ‘awful news’ had ‘sent shock waves across the Virgin Money UK workforce’ who were ‘understandably devastated’.
Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams told MailOnline that the ‘scale of the bank branch cull over recent years only seems to be getting worse’
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘This announcement of the closure of 39 vital bank branches has sent shock waves across the Virgin Money UK workforce.
‘Today 260 skilled and experienced staff have learnt that they risk losing their livelihoods at a time of deep economic uncertainty for all workers.
‘While the financial services sector is acquiring eye watering profits, they must start taking their responsibilities to customers and communities more seriously.’
Virgin Money said it will write to customers affected and display posters about the move at least 12 weeks before branches are shut.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the news ‘has sent shock waves’ across the staff
But Ms Graham added: ‘Access to a bank and cash is a fundamental need for all our local high streets. Simply walking away from the consumers who bring the banks astronomical profits is a complete disgrace.’
‘Unite is working hard across all locations to support its members as they digest the implications of this awful news.’
Virgin Money branches to close include those in Belfast, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Derby, Exeter, Liverpool.
Also on the list for closure are branches in Milton Keynes, Norwich, Oxford, Reading, Southampton, Swindon, Wolverhampton.
The closures in London are those in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield, Golders Green, Harrow, Haymarket, Kingston and Kensington.
There are also sites in smaller towns closing such as Kendal in Cumbria, Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway, Hexham in Northumberland and Turriff in Aberdeenshire.
And Unite national officer Caren Evans said: ‘The staff at Virgin Money UK are understandably devastated. The bank will close 39 sites leaving only 91 Virgin Money branches left.
‘Unite has urged the bank to rethink these catastrophic plans to withdraw banking services from communities who very much depend on the skilled and experienced banking staff.
‘This decision to pull out of these locations will hurt some of the most vulnerable, disabled and digitally excluded customers.’
Sarah Wilkinson, chief operating officer at Virgin Money, said: ‘The decision to close a store is never taken lightly.
‘But as our customers continue to change the way they want to bank with us, by conducting fewer transactions in-store and adopting the convenience of digital banking, we must respond to that evolving demand.
‘For our colleagues, we will pursue all options to retain as many as possible within alternative roles, and have had great success previously with store colleagues moving to other customer operations roles, as their skills are highly transferable.’