Barclays: no big cut in branches

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Barclays is reportedly poised to axe 400 branches Barclays is reportedly poised to axe 400 branches

Barclays denied it was planning a significant reduction to its branch network today, amid speculation that up to a quarter of its 1,600 sites in the UK could close.

The bank admitted there will be fewer traditional branches in the future but said the network was still an important part of its banking service.

According to today's Financial Times, the bank is planning to replace around 400 branches with smaller sites in Asda supermarkets.

Speculation over Barclays' branches follows an announcement yesterday by Lloyds Banking Group of 1,080 job losses across its retail, risk, operations and commercial banking divisions.

Barclays chief executive Antony Jenkins is leading an overhaul to improve results and repair its tarnished image following the group's £290 million fine for rigging the Libor rate.

A Barclays spokesman said: " We have no plans to announce significant reductions to our UK branch network.

"Increasing use of technology is changing the way in which customers choose to do their banking and creates opportunities for Barclays to offer services in new ways, complementing the branch network.

"We have consistently been clear that, over time, there will be fewer traditional branches as we move to provide banking services to customers where and when they find it most convenient. However, the branch network will remain an important part of our banking service and we will never leave a community without the ability to transact.

"Whilst it is inevitable that there will be speculation about how these changes will impact on the branch network, this will be driven by the needs of our customers and, therefore, there is not a target for a number of branches to be closed, nor a timeframe for such action."

The Unite union today attacked the "reckless rush" to close branches, which it warned would be unpopular with customers.

The union published a survey earlier this week which showed public opposition to automation in bank branches, with consumers preferring to deal with staff rather than machines.

Dominic Hook, Unite national officer, said: "Barclays must not embark on this reckless rush to close branches and fill others with machines instead of staff.

"There will be a significant cost to customer service in Barclays. Unite has called on Barclays to halt their bank branch closure plan. The banking industry must step back from the rush to install banking machines across all their branches at the continued expense of employment and training of a much-valued workforce.

"Research shows the significant reputational damage the banks will suffer if they ignore the needs of their customers. With 72% stating they have had problems with machines in branches and 62% preferring more staff in branches, there is no doubt about the importance of frontline bank staff.

"Barclays customers don't want to see empty soulless branches. There are serious questions as to what this reduction in staff numbers will do to customer service in Barclays."

Mr Jenkins will set out new financial targets when he presents the bank's results on February 11.

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Barclays will set aside an extra £330 million to cover litigation and regulatory costs when it reports results next month. It did not provide further details.

The move comes two days after Royal Bank of Scotland allocated more than £3 billion in additional funds to cover litigation and customer compensation claims, including £1.9 billion to cover mainly US action over mortgage-backed financial products.

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