For years now, it has been ever more difficult for customers to find a bank branch.

However, we have now reached a stage where the dearth of branches is nothing short of astounding.

And it looks almost certain that things are going to get worse from here as the big banks carry on regardless.

Virgin Money, which takes in the former Clydesdale Bank and Northern Rock networks, revealed in July that it was going to shut nearly one-third of its remaining branches. It might come as a surprise to some that this closure total amounts to only 39 branches, or “stores” as Virgin Money prefers to call them, such is the diminution we have seen already.

That said, these 39 branches have been providing essential services to communities.

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Trade union Unite declared in the wake of the Virgin Money announcement that, since 2015, more than 6,000 bank branches had closed their doors.

In Scotland, Virgin Money’s latest raft of closures will see branches in Lochgilphead, Newton Stewart, Turriff, Ellon, Irvine and Fort William axed.

This will surely cause major difficulties for many customers in these communities. The same troubles will be replicated in other settlements throughout the UK in which Virgin Money is closing branches.

It is of course just the latest in a series of swingeing branch closures by Virgin Money, in its current and previous guises.

Of course, the bank is not alone.

The major banking groups have implemented branch closures on a scale which would have been unthinkable a decade ago, even on the most pessimistic of views, a sad state of affairs underlined by Unite’s tally.

Announcing its latest closures, Virgin Money said: “After a review of how customers are using our stores, we’ve made the difficult decision to close some of our stores from October 2023. We’re sorry if this is disappointing news and want to make sure you know about all the other ways you can bank with us.”

It went on to provide details of how to undertake personal and business banking at post offices. Virgin Money also offered details of online and telephone banking.

The big banks do rather seem to have put aside the notion that the customer should come first, when it comes to branches.

It was interesting that Virgin Money was aware enough of the reality of the situation to acknowledge that its closures might be “disappointing news” for customers, yet proceeded with them anyway.

Many customers have, of course, moved online. However, many others have not and prefer to do their banking face to face, particularly when it comes to more complex and sensitive issues.

And it is difficult to escape the notion that some customers who have moved online have done so only because the choice was effectively removed from them with branch closures.

In major city centres in days gone by, it seemed you were never far from the branch of whichever major bank you might be with. Now you might find yourself having to walk from one end of the city to another to find a branch of your bank. So much for customer service.

Of course, the problem is even more acute in remote and rural communities, and in the many smaller towns which seem increasingly to be targets for closures. It seems the major banks are closing branches in increasingly large settlements.

It is a grim state of affairs, and the banks’ obsession with branch closures shows no sign of easing.

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Post offices always seem these days to be touted as an alternative when banks close branches. However, while some basic transactions can be carried out through these outlets, post offices cannot offer the range of services provided by bank branches.

Retailers have tended to be better than banks at offering customers a choice of bricks and mortar or online. Obviously, it is easier for customers to vote with their feet when it comes to shopping, rather than banking, although you would imagine there might be a bit of such behaviour if banks keep carrying on in a way that many would view as taking consumers for granted.

It was good to see a robust response to the Virgin Money announcement on branch closures from Unite.

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Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said on the day of the revelation: “This announcement of the closure of 39 vital bank branches has sent shock waves across the Virgin Money UK workforce. Today 260 skilled and experienced staff have learnt that they risk losing their livelihoods at a time of deep economic uncertainty for all workers.

“While the financial services sector is acquiring eye-watering profits, they must start taking their responsibilities to customers and communities more seriously. Access to a bank and cash is a fundamental need for all our local high streets. Simply walking away from the consumers who bring the banks astronomical profits is a complete disgrace.”

Unite national officer Caren Evans said: “The staff at Virgin Money UK are understandably devastated. The bank will close 39 sites, leaving only 91 Virgin Money branches… “Unite has urged the bank to rethink these catastrophic plans to withdraw banking services from communities who very much depend on the skilled and experienced banking staff. This decision to pull out of these locations will hurt some of the most vulnerable, disabled and digitally excluded customers.”

In stark contrast, the lack of action by the UK Government to stem the slew of bank branch closures is demoralising. So is the silence from most politicians.

The UK banking sector appears to have got us to a place, when it comes to branches, that it is likely to be quite happy with. The big players can close branches these days without any much remark on it, let alone robust debate.

In this environment, it looks as if things will surely get even worse from here for those personal and business banking customers who would like to access a branch and speak to a member of staff face to face.