Memo to PRs: the branch is alive and kicking

Over 1.75bn mobile phone users will have used their devices for banking by the end of 2019, compared to 800m this year.

News today from analysts Juniper Research that globally over 1.75bn mobile phone users will have used their devices for banking by the end of 2019, compared to 800m this year coincides with yet another set of headlines about the impending death of the UK bank branch, writes Douglas Blakey.

Poppycock.

It might help if certain UK-based PRs could make the effort to download the report in question – in this case ‘The Way We Bank Now: It’s In Your Hands’ published by the BBA and EY and spare a few minutes to read said report.

That might be more constructive than firing off emails to the banking press relating to the apparent ‘Death of the branch’.

And worse: then following up said email with a phone call enquiring if the email has been received and if it is going to be given a write up.

As one might expect, given its sources, it is a good report and well worth a read.

Far from forecasting the death of the branch, it states in simple English that even the most simple of PRs might understand that the branch remains integral to banking in the 21st century.

It goes on to flag up the major investments being made by a number of UK banks to modernise thousands of high street outlets, underlining their commitment to branch banking.

The report actually states – at least Ovum’s PR firm picked up on this and so are exempt from the aforementioned PR bating – that bank branch is changing, but not dying as more of us become more heavily dependent on the digital channels.

As Ovum’s research confirms – and I am grateful to them for sharing this snippet which confirms my suspicion that spending on the branch across the sector is rising: Ovum forecast that spending on branches will rise by 3.44% annually on average between 2014 and 2018.

Back to the BBA/EY report and one stat jumps out for me: Lloyds Banking Group’s weekly banking app use has risen from 2.1 million uses in 2012, to 4.7 million in 2013 and now 6.6 million so far this year.

Lloyds, alone among its peer group, is yet to rationalise its branch network. Yes, it has lost 632 outlets to the new TSB but the existing Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland branded outlets remain untouched.

The last word from the media team at Lloyds was a statement saying:

“In 2011 Lloyds committed to keeping the same number of branches in its network for three years. We also pledged not to close a branch if it is the last one in a community.

“These commitments run until the end of 2014, and as yet no decisions have been made about our branch network after this point.”

Lloyds has a bit of catching up with its rivals in terms of optimising its branch network.

The combined Lloyds/Halifax/Bank of Scotland branch network remains in excess of 2,000 outlets. It is a safeish forecast that there is scope for Lloyds to shrink this network by up 15%-25% in the next five years. And no doubt, once this news is released, we can expect another flood of emails from PRs relating to the death of the branch. What a joy. What a treat.