This is how many bank branches have closed in the last three years

NatWest has closed the most bank branches Picture: Nick Butcher

NatWest has closed the most bank branches Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Bank and building society branches are closing at an 'alarming' rate of nearly 60 per month, according to an consumer group.

Which? said analysis showed that between the start of 2015 and the end of 2018, 2,868 branches have closed or are scheduled to do so – averaging just under 60 per month.

The group said 221 were scheduled to close in the East of England alone.

The organisation said branch closures have been accelerating. It said so far this year 670 branches have closed or been scheduled for closure – putting 2018 on course to overtake the number of closures in 2017, when 879 branches were shut.

Which? said that while mobile banking trucks may visit towns and villages, they are not as convenient as a dedicated bank branch.

READ: Last bank branch in town closesMORE: Lloyds to close 49 branches including in Watton and ChatterisMeanwhile mobile banking apps are not suitable for everyone's needs, it said, and do not always give people easy access to their accounts, as TSB's recent IT meltdown has shown.

Which? collected bank branch closure data by tracking closure announcements.

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Its analysis found that of the branch closures it looked at, NatWest has closed the most, with 638 having shut, or being scheduled to close by the end of 2018.

This was followed by HSBC (440), Lloyds (366) and RBS (350).

Looking at where bank branch closures have or are taking place, Which? said Scotland has been particularly badly hit, with 368 branches having shut since 2015, or being scheduled to close by the end of 2018.

Which? Money expert Gareth Shaw said: 'Bank branch closures are happening at an alarming rate - with almost 60 shutting every month - stripping customers and communities of access to the financial services they need.

'While the decision is clearly a commercial one for a bank to take, it is also crucial that banks do recognise the needs of their customers and the communities they serve, before simply shutting their doors - and their customers out.'

A spokesman for trade association UK Finance said: 'Bank branches play an important role in local communities which is why decisions to close them are only ever taken after all other options, like reducing opening hours and staff numbers, have been exhausted.

'Under the industry's Access to Banking Standard, information and support is provided to customers to minimise the impact of branch closures, helping them to access alternative ways to bank.

'Bank branch visits have fallen by a quarter since 2012, with the development of new technology meaning it's now easier for people to do their banking at a time and place that is convenient to them.

'You can check your balance online, pay back a friend digitally or speak your bank for advice 24/7.

'But technology is not for everyone which is why all the major banks offer day-to-day banking services through 11,500 Post Office branches.

'That means there are now more places where you can bank than ever before.

'This is important to make sure that no-one gets left behind, which is why banks are continuing to invest in new ATMs and mobile bank branches to reach out to more rural communities.'

Which? has created a bank branch closure tool to help people find out if their local bank branch has closed in 2018 at is a regional breakdown of the bank branch closures, or scheduled closures, in the Which? analysis:

- East, 221

- East Midlands, 165

- London, 288

- North East, 81

- North West, 353

- Northern Ireland, 44

- Scotland, 368

- South East, 361

- South West, 327

- Wales, 200

- West Midlands, 208

- Yorkshire and the Humber, 252

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