HSBC has announced that it will close 69 branches across the UK, including two in Scotland, in the second half of this year.

The move, which is expected to affect the jobs of 400 staff, marks its accelerated shift towards online banking.

The  consumer organisation Which said in the wake of the latest in a raft of bank closures that the government had to act fast to ensure the public's access to cash.

The British banking multinational, which has 7,500 offices in more than 80 countries around the world, says it will begin closing the branches from July.

It said the decision was taken as part of its “transformation” into how branches operate within communities.

HSBC has pledged to offer more varied services for its customers outside of the traditional banking model.

The two Scottish branches set to close are in Perth on 26 July, and in Inverness on 27 September.

Jenny Ross,  Which money editor said: "There has been an alarming number of bank branch closures in recent years, and many consumers who rely on banks to access cash for everyday essentials and face-to-face services will be concerned about what these latest closures mean for them.

"While many consumers now choose to bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to take that step. The banking industry's proposals to protect access to cash must keep them in mind, and need to be underpinned by legislation.

"The government must move urgently to make good on its promise to legislate and ensure that consumers will continue to be able to access cash for as long as it is needed.”

As part of the plans, affected local areas will see more pop-ups, new integrated self-service machines and further digital support for customers, which will be assisted by colleagues.

HSBC will also continue to use the Post Office network as part of its wider operations.

The banking group said the changes are part of efforts to invest in its digital and mobile service, reflecting the changing needs of customers.

Less than half of the bank’s customers now actively use its branch network, with the average footfall halving since 2017.

HSBC said it will retain a network of more than 440 branches and will not close any branches where they are the last bank in town.

But the move is expected to increase the average distance customers must travel for in-person services to around four miles.

HeraldScotland:

HSBC's head of UK branch network Jackie Uhi said: "The way people bank is changing - something the pandemic has accelerated.

"Our branches continue to support people with their more complex banking needs, but the way we can do this has also evolved, with the addition of banking hubs, community pop ups and continued use of the Post Office network.

"Rather than a one-size fits all branch approach, it's an approach built around the way different customers are choosing to bank in different areas."

Scotland has seen more bank branches close in the pasat six year than have remained open.

An analysis produced by the consumer organisation Which? at the end of last year revealed that 54% (554) of the 1019 bank branches that existed in Scotland in 2015 will have shut by early 2022.

Edinburgh-based TSB announced at the end of last year it was axing 70 bank branches in 2022 including nine in Scotland, putting 150 jobs at risk in a new wave of cuts. It would leave the nation with just 465 bank branches open.

In early 2021, TSB forged ahead with closures of 73 bank branches and a cut of around 300 jobs despite appeals to save branches in remote and most deprived areas of Scotland.

While there has been continued resistance to closing the 'last bank in town' the move meant shutting down the last remaining bank in the eastern coastal corner of Fife, East Neuk, home to picturesque fishing towns and described as "one of Scotland's hidden gems".

The HSBC comes after Barclays closed 65 bank branches across the UK over the last 12 months.

The British banking giant shut 63 banks last year, before closing a further two in February this year.

Lloyds Banking Group also announced in November that it will close a further 48 branches, blaming a decline in visits by customers for the closures.

The closures include 41 Lloyds Bank branches and seven Halifax branches.

Recent research from the Financial Conduct Authority found that, during the pandemic, 15% of UK adults have struggled to cope without access to bank branches and ATMs, while 16% suffered as more businesses stopped or encouraged customers to use contactless or digital payments.

But Which has said that measures had to be put in place to support the five million that the FCA said remain dependent on cash.