The Impact of Bank Closures on UK SMEs

Recent findings from BusinessComparison have revealed insights from UK SME leaders regarding their interactions with local banks, highlighting a significant reduction in the number of bank branches in proximity to their businesses over the past decade.

The survey engaged owners and senior decision-makers within SMEs to discuss the frequency of their local bank use and their primary concerns surrounding bank closures. Results varied according to the age of the business leaders and their location within the UK. Key findings include:

  • 74% observed a decrease in the number of nearby bank branches compared to ten years ago.
  • 21% of business leaders reported that either they or a member of their staff need between 31 to 45 minutes to reach their local bank, while 51% said the journey takes 11 to 30 minutes.

Philip Brennan, Founder and MD at BusinessComparison, comments: “We were interested in finding out how leaders at SMEs feel about their access to local banks. The fact that three-quarters of the people we surveyed said they’ve noticed fewer branches confirms a pattern that has been going on anecdotally for some time.

“It was heartening to see how much of a sense of business community emerged from the survey results. For 88% of business leaders, the main concern when it came to bank closures was the impact on the local area, including other businesses.”

Only 12% of business leaders said they were not worried about bank closures in their area. 50% said they were concerned about businesses that take cash payments, and 34% were worried about the impact on customers.

One of the most popular reasons to visit the bank was to deposit any takings in cash - 46% of those surveyed said they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ go for this purpose. Collecting change from the bank was a slightly less commonly given reason - but while 47% of businesses never run out of change to give to customers, 13% do several times a week.

51% of business leaders said it takes them or a staff member 11 to 30 minutes to make a trip to the closest bank. 21% said that it takes between 31 and 45 minutes.

44% of business leaders said they ‘Always’ use digital banking services to complete routine tasks, with 34% answering ‘Often’.

Alternative digital payment methods were shown to be increasingly popular. Either due to customer request or difficulty using cash, 57% of those surveyed said they had taken a payment using the most popular of these options, PayPal.

London was the region most likely to say they often take cash payments, at 40%, much higher than the national average at 24%. This region was also the most likely, overall, to have a member of staff visit the bank every day, at 62%.

London’s business leaders were the most likely to say that there were more banks near their place of work than there had been 10 years ago. While there was still a majority saying there were fewer local banks, at 56%, 22% said there were more. Perhaps the reliance on in-person bank visits means bank branches in London are less likely to be closed.

Another outlier was the South East, the most likely to only take card payments, at 35%. That is more than 10% of the national average of 21%. 74% of respondents here said their business never goes to the bank to collect change.

In one interesting discovery from the survey, younger business leaders were more likely to make in-person visits to the bank. 45% of businesses run by 25 to 34-year-olds and 36% of those run by 35 to 44-year-olds send a staff member to the bank several times a week. Only 15% of businesses run by 55 to 64-year-olds go this often. Gen Z business owners aged 18-24 are the most likely to go to the bank several times a week at 51%.

The survey found that while the majority of businesses still rely on in-person banking, there is a surprising level of variation between different age groups and across the country. Owners and decision makers at SMEs clearly value their local banks and are concerned that they are disappearing - both for their own sake and for the sake of others who use local bank branches, the other businesses in the local ecosystem as well as their customers.