All UK high street banks should allow their customers do their everyday banking over the post office counter, a consumer group argues. This would particularly help those in rural areas where thousands of bank branches have closed in recent years or are some distance away.
Consumer Focus estimates up to 18 million customers would use the service - to withdraw money, pay in cash and cheques or find out their account balance at the Post Office.
Around a third of bank and building society branches have closed in the last 15 years - more than a fifth of the total (2,200 branches have shut since 2000). There are now more post offices in the UK than bank and building society branches combined - the post office network offers nine or ten times as many branches as some leading banks.
Andy Burrows, post office expert at Consumer Focus, said: "Our research shows there is real consumer appetite to do everyday banking over the post office counter. Four out of five people were unaware they could access their account through a post office with two-fifths of this group telling us they would consider doing so if they knew it was possible.
Around four million people, from across the vast majority of highstreet banks, are estimated to already use the 11,800 strong post office network to use some current account services.
However, all HSBC and most Santander customers, totalling one in five UK current account holders, are not able to access their accounts over the post office counter. Of the leading banks who do offer services at the Post Office many don't offer post office customers the full range of transactions, for example they may be able to withdraw money but not make a deposit or check their account balance.
The consumer watchdog's research shows that half of those who currently access their current account at a post office found the post office easier to get to than their bank. Around a third said their bank had no local branch in the area with 5% saying banks where they lived had closed.
Consumer Focus is calling for five steps to improve access to banking services at the post office for consumers:
- HSBC and Santander should join other major banks and allow all of their customers access to current accounts at post offices
- All banks should offer full current account transactions at post offices, in line with the good practice demonstrated by Halifax, Lloyds TSB, Co-operative Bank, Smile, former Alliance and Leicester, Cahoot, Clydesdale and Bank of Ireland. Major high street banks including Barclays, First Direct, Nationwide, Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland only offer some banking transactions through the Post Office.
- Banks should raise awareness of post office access through messages on statements, ATMs and online banking services
- Post Office Limited must improve the service it provides in its branches - queues and poor quality of service could be disincentives for consumers wishing to access their bank accounts at post offices
- To make this service workable it will also be important that Post Office Limited offers competitive commercial terms to banks for services provided to their customers.