Santander branches will be open for less than six hours a day from July in another blow to communities that have seen in-person banking services dwindle over the past decade.
The changes mean customers will only be able to visit branches from 9.30am to 3pm on weekdays, instead of until 4.30pm. On Saturdays, branches will close as early as 12.30pm.
Britain’s major banks have quietly been closing their branches and cutting opening hours over the past 10 years, with thousands disappearing from the high street. More than 700 bank branches closed for good last year and many banks cut hours during the pandemic but failed to extend them again, leaving some customers unable to access key services.
Santander said it would not be closing any branches as part of the change and all of its 450 sites would remain open every weekday. The bank said staff would still be available for pre-booked face-to-face appointments between 3pm and 5pm.
Lowest opening hours
The changes mean that at 31 hours, Santander has one of the worst opening hours of the UK’s major banks. An analysis of more than 4,000 branches by The Telegraph found that Natwest had the lowest opening hours, with banks open on average just 29.5 hours a week. It was followed by Barclays at 31.5 hours and Lloyds and Bank of Scotland at 32.5 hours.
Politicians and campaigners have long accused banks of cutting services “by stealth” and have urged them to do more for their customers at a time when many have been enjoying higher profit margins because they are not passing on rising interest rates to savers.
Richard Owen, head of branches at Santander, said: “These changes will enable us to maintain our existing branch network while providing significant additional capacity to help customers who want to talk to us by phone.
“We have seen a continuing reduction in branch usage over several years, both before and since the peak of the pandemic, with many customers preferring to transact digitally or contact us by phone.”
The bank said the number of customers using its branches fell by a third over the two years before the coronavirus pandemic, and a further 50 per cent in 2020 and 12 per cent in 2021.
The changes will take place from July 18 and there will be no compulsory redundancies or a reduction of employee working hours as a result. The bank plans to beef up its telephone support for customers and said branch staff will be trained to help alongside their face-to-face roles.
Protect future of cash
The Government has previously said that it plans to legislate to protect the future of cash and a number of initiatives have already been announced, including shared banking hubs and the availability of basic banking at Post Offices.
However, much of the response has centred on communities that are being hit with bank or ATM closures rather than restricted hours.
Jenny Ross, money editor at Which?, said: “Santander deserves credit for taking greater account of customer needs than some of its rivals that have slashed their branch networks without putting in place reasonable alternatives. But this continues a concerning overall trend of banks chipping away at face-to-face services and opening hours.
“While proposals from individual banks and the industry to protect cash are welcome, a piecemeal approach is unlikely to be enough to safeguard access to cash for the millions of people who rely on it. The government must announce, in next month’s Queen’s Speech, the legislation it has promised to protect cash for as long as it is needed,” she added.