Expect a 6-foot sign when you visit your Barclays branch in the next week. ‘Look out for changes to banking in branch,’ it reads. ‘For everyday banking, you’ll now need to use our self-service machines, the Barclays app or online banking.’

The notice was posted near 500 branches in the country.

The message is clear, traditional banks are no more.

Automated service: Friendly cashiers, with whom you might once have been on first-name terms with, are increasingly being replaced by machines

Automated service

Money Mail research shows that the top banks have closed 2,766 branches within five years.

As the regulator tries to stop more branch closures, the banks have been cutting branches services down to the bone. Machines are replacing friendly cashiers with whom you may have once been on first-name terms.

Money Mail revealed last month that Barclays employees refused to assist elderly or vulnerable customers face-to-face and instead used a self service machine due to pressures coming from the head office. The bank at the time said these were just unfortunate, one-off cases.

Today, however, we are able to reveal that banks all over the country have turned their backs upon the traditional branch in an effort to increase profits.

Bad sign: Signs have been appearing in Barclays branches since August ¿ suggesting a concerted drive to push customers online once and for all

Bad sign: Signs have been appearing in Barclays branches since August — suggesting a concerted drive to push customers online once and for all

Sign up for the online times

Barclays as well as HSBC are both closing their doors. 

Since August, signs have appeared in Barclays branches. This suggests a coordinated drive to get customers on the internet once and for all.

Two small, plastic holders with leaflets are attached to the notice found in London Branch. 

One reads: ‘Taking out less than £300 cash? Please use our self-service machines instead of the counter.’ 

Another says the bank is ‘on a mission to reduce how much paper we use’ and includes detailed instructions on how to sign up for digital statements. 

If you still want a paper copy, ‘you can use our online banking points in branch,’ it adds.

A blackboard is located at the branch’s entrance that lists telephone numbers customers can dial to obtain assistance with banking.

Both Barclays and HSBC, who have more than 32 million UK customers between them, are closing counters to ordinary customers

Both Barclays and HSBC, who have more than 32 million UK customers between them, are closing counters to ordinary customers

Barclays and HSBC have both closed counters for ordinary customers. They each have over 32 million UK customers.

HSBC expects to have 208 counterless branches by 2021. This is more than 40% of the network. Machine-only Lloyds branches are also available at 58 locations.

A Money Mail survey revealed that nearly one in five customers have been refused access to counters. 

The banks claim they will respond to customer needs. Consumer Intelligence polled 1,027 adults and found that nearly half preferred face-to-face services.

This is why many people explain that they want to be certain their transactions are completed properly. Some people prefer to speak with a person and complain that machines are often slow or not functional.

Branch with no counters

At an alarming rate, banks have been closing down branches in our cities and towns.

The last five-years alone have seen the closure of 36% percent of High Street firms’ branches.

According to the Financial Conduct Authority, City watchdog, 93% of the largest banks were only partially open at the end June after they had reduced their hours during the pandemic. 

Three out of three weren’t open at 3 p.m. Critics claim that the recent push to make customers use online banking is a way to accelerate branch closures. By forcing customers to use computers, banks can justify closing more branches.

Dennis Reed, from over-60s campaign group Silver Voices, says: ‘The High Street is being dehumanised with more and more transactions becoming digital. 

‘With branch closures, reduced opening hours and face-to-face services, customers likely feel they are being forced online against their wishes.’

Branch openings are still needed, especially among elderly and the vulnerable. Consumer Intelligence surveyed 38 percent of respondents to its survey, who said that they visited their branch at most once in three months. 

A fifth of those who use a branch more than once a month go to it. Many claimed that they only use one branch because their bank closed.

However, even though banks permit branches to stay open, some limit services and even refuse to take cash.

Of HSBC’s counterless branches, just 19 have a coin pay-in machine, while the rest will not accept change. Around 12 Barclays branches can only accept cash.

Lloyds has 58 branches that do not have counters. However, the bank states cash and coins can still be accepted. Many banks also close counters before the branch closes.

Barclays branches typically open at 9:30am, close at 3:30pm or 4:30pm. However counters might be closed as early at 2pm.

Counters close at 4pm by the TSB, which is an hour ahead of branch closing time. Nationwide claims that every branch has the ability to either open counters or close them depending on how busy they are throughout the day.

You are being bullied to use machines

Even the branches offering counter services are becoming more restricted in who they can be used. 

They are not recommended for customers who work in business, and they may be inappropriate for people grieving. 

Anyone who wants to pay a bill, deposit money or bank a check will be turned away. Instead they will go to self-service machines. Barclays offers online banking services that allow you to print statements, manage your regular payments and even pay bills.

Nationwide also has iPads that customers can use to open new accounts at their branch. However, many customers with elderly clients complain about how difficult these machines are to use and the fact that they frequently reject their transactions. This means that they must wait to get to a counter.

Options: Santander says it asks its customers what they want to do in the branch to decide how to best help them

Santander says that it listens to its customers to find out what they would like to do at the branch in order to provide them with the best possible service

Customers are complaining in record numbers that staff bully and treat them poorly.

Derek French, a former bank executive and founder of the campaign for community banking services, says: ‘The big banks don’t seem to want to interface with humans any longer. Mass branch closings, reduced opening times, and restricted counter access are some of the ways they have made this happen. However, we continue to be pressured by them to download their apps, use everything online, and interact with robot chatlines.

‘Enough is enough: please stop.’

Customer backlash rising

Money Mail was inundated by complaints from customers dissatisfied with the service they received at their branch.

Sandra Hornblow of HSBC says that the local branch she uses in Andover (Hants) has just removed all their counters.

One elderly man explained to the staff, when she went to deposit cash earlier in the month. He had bad eyesight so he didn’t know how to use online banking.

She says: ‘All he needed was someone to help him do what he wanted. It is not something that large banks realize, but they make life very difficult for elderly customers without computers. A friendly cashier is all they want and expect from their bank.’

Sandra is a former bookkeeper and prefers to use the counter service. She says: ‘If HSBC had asked any of us if we were happy with this decision, I think it would find lots of people would disagree. This is not progress, this is a cost-cutting exercise.’

Pensioner Alan Stewart says his branch of Yorkshire Bank, which has since been rebranded as Virgin Money, in Scarborough refused to let him pay a £200 credit card bill with cash a few weeks ago.

Abandoned: Last month we exposed how Barclays staff were refusing to help vulnerable customers in person - insisting they used a machine instead due to pressures from head office

We were forced to abandon: Barclays employees refused to assist vulnerable customers face-to-face last month, insisting that they use a machine to do so due to pressures coming from the head office 

Former postman claims he was told by the bank that cash cannot be taken over the counter. The former postman had to pay with a debit card, and then deposit the money back in his account.

Alan, 78, says: ‘What are banks for if they refuse cash? Older people do not need this hassle and it feels as if the banks do not want to know us.’

Tess Webster states that she’s been told twice to move from a waiting area for a counter. She was forced to rejoin the queue both times after the machine stopped working.

One occasion she went to Southport in Merseyside’s Barclays branch, where she transferred money between different accounts.

One customer was ahead of Tess. However, before Tess could be served, the cashier called to inquire what Tess (69) wanted and pointed her towards a machine. However, because the sum involved was more than £2,000 the transaction was rejected, by which point there were eight people in front of her.

Tess, a former administrator, says: ‘There were lots of customers waiting around for staff to help them. Also, the counter closes at 2.30 pm or 2pm rather than the branch. Staff were reluctant to assist me on one occasion, as the closing time was only 15 minutes before.

‘It was only after I kicked up a fuss that they dealt with the transfer by laptop. Barclays is letting us down.’

Our story: Barclays blasted

Barclays blasts: Our story

Cathy Harvey (72 years old) was stunned to find a sign in Pinner, Middlesex at Barclays. It instructed her to use the self-service machines. And it took her four attempts to send £50 to her granddaughter for her birthday because an error message kept appearing.

She says other customers were also struggling, with staff running around like ‘headless chickens’ trying to help. Cathy, who has been with Barclays for 30 years, says: ‘I left feeling so angry. It is my desire to just be able go to a branch to do the things I need. Why should we be forced to use machines?’

According to the banks

Barclays states that customers who can perform their transactions at self-service points are encouraged to do so.

The type of branch you go to will determine which branch you use with HSBC. Because there is no counter, customers visiting HSBC’s digital service branches will need to use machines. 

Other branches, usually in large cities, offer full services. You have options. There are also counters available at places that serve communities where cash is more important.

Nationwide, NatWest, Lloyds, and NatWest may inform customers that self-service options are available, especially in queues, however, customers have the option to use the counter service at any time if desired. 

NatWest offers a Banking My Way service, which lets customers specify the way they want to be served.

NatWest has a service called ¿Banking My Way¿ which allows customers to specify how they wish to be served ¿ should they need extra time or a quiet space, for example

NatWest has a service called ‘Banking My Way’ which allows customers to specify how they wish to be served — should they need extra time or a quiet space, for example

Santander wants to know what its customers want from the branch in order to provide them with the best possible service.

TSB claims it doesn’t direct its customers to use its machines.

A Barclays spokesman says: ‘We’re sorry that these customers were upset at the service they encountered and being asked to use self-service machines. 

These machines allow branch colleagues to help a greater number of customers more effectively, and to become self-sufficient and feel more confident in managing their money themselves.’

An HSBC spokesman says: ‘We are very conscious that there will be some customers who are less confident or comfortable using self-service options, and we would like to assure them that we will not be leaving any of our customers high and dry. Branch staff are always on hand to help in the banking hall.’

A Virgin Money spokesman says: ‘Customers can pay their bills in store using cash. For security reasons, however, customers are asked to deposit cash in their bank account, and then they can pay the bill. But we do not ask customers to pay the bill online.’


Savings accounts

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