Yet another bank branch earmarked for the chop

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The axe is set to fall on yet another Wigan bank branch.

The latest victim of the remorseless march of technology will be the Barclays outlet within the Asda hypermarket at Newtown.

It is one of another 54 branches it is planning to close down in the coming weeks and Newtown will cash its final cheque on October 27. The move will bring its total number of Barclays closures in 2017 to 67 across the UK.

In a statement, the bank said along with a number of high street lenders, the closures are linked to the growing demand for digital services – such as the increasing shift towards immediate online and app banking facilities. A spokesman confirmed the closures will not result in any job losses, adding:

“The number of physical Barclays branches will reduce overall but our branch network and the colleagues who work in them remain a vital part of our offering. We will continue to evolve the shape and size of our branch network, as well as improving and investing in the experience in-branch.

We also provide our customers with a range of digital channels.” There was a time when there was a bank to be found in every modest-sized Wigan community upwards – sometimes several per town and village. But it was as early as the mid-1990s that branch closures began, one of the first being the NatWest in Shevington.

Few townships have been spared since as transactions are increasingly carried out digitally. According to consumer platform Which?, over 1,000 high street bank branches were axed between January 2015 and January 2017 alone, with HSBC the worst offender.


Bank of England says Brexit transition desirable for UK, EU banks

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The Bank of England said a transition period after the Britain leaves the European Union would give banks more time to make orderly changes as Brexit poses risks to financial stability.

With UK due to leave the bloc in March 2019, the BoE’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) said it faces heavy demands from Brexit fallout on banks and insurers.

BoE Deputy Governor and PRA Chief Executive Sam Woods said “some form of implementation period is desirable” between Britain leaving the bloc and start of new trading terms to “give UK and EU firms” more time to make necessary changes.

But he stopped short of saying what sort of transition he wanted in a reply to Nicky Morgan, new chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, who asked him this month for his views on the design of such a period.

The UK government has not presented the EU with any firm request for a transition period as it still seeks internal consensus.

UK-based firms are not waiting for clarity and are announcing new hubs in the EU27 to be sure of serving customers there after March 2019 – and avoid the destabilising ruptures in financial links the BoE fears.

Woods had asked banks to spell out how they would cope in particular with a “hard” Brexit where Britain crashes out of the EU with no transition or trading deal.

In a letter to Morgan made public on Wednesday, he said 401 responses were received, which revealed “significant issues for many firms” and the BoE will reach a view on the plans in the autumn.

The submissions provided “further evidence” of risks the BoE had already identified, specifically relating to the continued servicing and performance of existing contracts and restriction on data transfers.

There could be a sharp rise in the number of insurance policies shifted from one country to another, a switch that involves the courts, he said.

“Re-structuring by firms to mitigate risks to their business will in general increase complexity.” Dislocation and fragmentation of markets could bump up costs and cut activity.

The BoE will need to ensure that supervising firms with links between the EU and a Britain outside the bloc, is still doable, he added.

The PRA faces having to authorise and supervise a significant number of additional firms, which could place a material extra burden on resources, Woods said.

London is home to branches of banks from continental Europe and they face having to become subsidiaries, meaning they would be directly supervised by the PRA.

Woods said the issues set out in his response to Morgan “pose a material risk” to the PRA’s objectives as a supervisor, and that this work is a top priority.

“It is incumbent on us to manage this burden but we may have to make some difficult prioritisation decisions in order to accommodate it,” Woods said.


Ban on unarranged overdraft charges considered by FCA

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Charges for unarranged bank overdrafts could be banned, under one option being considered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

It said the charges for those who go into the red without agreement can be high and complex.

Earlier this month, the UK’s largest lender, Lloyds, said it was getting rid of unarranged overdraft fees altogether from November.

Barclays has already stopped all unauthorised lending.

However, other banks charge about £6 a day, or up to £90 a month.

“We believe there is a case to consider fundamental reform of unarranged overdrafts, and whether they should have a place in any modern banking market,” the FCA said, in its review into the high-cost credit market.

“Maintaining the status quo is not an option,” said FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey. Unarranged overdraft fees were often “significantly higher” than payday loans, he added.

However, the FCA made it clear that an outright ban on unarranged overdrafts was only one option being considered.

It could impose a cap on charges, or demand some affordability checks before a bank lends money on an unplanned basis.

A year ago the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) decided against a capon charges.

Half of all overdraft users go over their agreed borrowing limit, according to the CMA. In 2014 such customers spent £1.2bn in charges as a result.

The banking industry responded by saying that customers were usually warned if they were about to go overdrawn, usually via a text alert on on a mobile app.

“When used sustainably, consumer credit is important for economic growth, and lenders work hard to ensure the balance is right between helping customers to borrow while ensuring longer term affordability,” said Eric Leenders, head of personal banking at UK Finance.

Motor finance

The FCA has also highlighted concerns about the rent-to-own market, typically used by consumers to buy fridges, freezers and televisions.

“We think that is a sizeable issue, because people are paying three or four times more than if they used cash,” Mr Bailey told the BBC.

The FCA said that one option might be for housing associations to provide such goods instead.

Mr Bailey said there were also concerns about motor finance, a worry already highlighted by the Bank of England.

“We’re looking at affordability tests and the transparency of terms,” he said.

The FCA will publish an update on this work in the first quarter of 2018.

Payday loans

As part of its review into high-cost lending, the FCA also looked at how the cap on payday loans was working.

It said that the cap, first imposed in January 2015, had delivered “substantial benefits” to consumers.

Since then, no one has had to pay more than 0.8% a day of the amount borrowed. The maximum they pay is no more than twice the amount they borrowed.

The FCA said its review found that the cap meant 760,000 borrowers in this market were saving a total of £150m a year, that companies were now less likely to lend to customers who cannot afford to repay, and debt charities were seeing fewer people struggling with ballooning borrowing from payday loans.

Mr Bailey said the FCA would continue to focus its efforts on what else needed to be done in this area.


Bank of England strike to go ahead

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A three-day strike by Bank of England support staff will go ahead after talks at the conciliation service Acas ended without agreement, the Unite union said.

Employees are unhappy about a below inflation pay rise of 1%.

Protestors are planning to gather outside the Bank of England building wearing masks of Governor Mark Carney.

It will be the first time for over 50 years that staff at the Bank of England have been on strike.

Unite members at the Bank of England working in the maintenance and security departments will be taking part in the strike.

In addition, staff in the Bank of England “parlours” which are meeting rooms on the ground floor of the Bank’s building in Threadneedle Street will walk out. The staff are involved in a variety of work including security and catering as well as conducting visitors around the bank.

A Bank of England spokesperson said the Bank had been told that the industrial action called by Unite would begin at midnight for three days.

“The Union balloted approximately 2% of the workforce,” the statement said.

“The Bank has plans in place so that all essential business will continue to operate as normal during this period. The Bank has been in talks with Unite up to and including today and remains ready to continue those talks at any time.”

The last time Bank of England staff went on strike was in the late 60s and involved print workers in Debden, who were employed by the Bank of England at that time,

Unite said the dispute centred on the “derisory” pay settlement that the bank had imposed on staff without the union’s agreement. It was the second year running that staff had received a below inflation pay offer, it said.

Unite London and Eastern regional secretary Peter Kavanagh said its members had “been left with no choice but to take industrial action”.

“Mark Carney should come to the picket lines outside this iconic British bank today and explain why hardworking men and women deserve to face years of pay cuts.

“They are struggling to pay their bills and feed their families because the bank has unjustly imposed a below inflation or zero pay rise,” he added.

Inflation was 2.6% last month, according to official figures.


HSBC profits rise as it prepares for UK ringfence

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HSBC has reported a rise in its first half profits and announced a share buyback as it prepares to ring-fence its UK retail arm by 2019.

Europe’s biggest bank reported a 5% rise in pre-tax profit of $10.2bn (£7.8bn) for the first six months of 2017, up by about $500m.

As widely expected, the bank has also announced a share buyback of up to $2bn which it expects to complete by the end of 2017.

HSBC shares rose 3% on the news.

The bank’s shares fell back later but its share price has rallied over the past year, helped by the weak pound which makes profits earned abroad more valuable when repatriated to the UK.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, HSBC has been cutting jobs and selling assets to make the group more profitable, while still making dividend payments to shareholders.

“In the past 12 months, we have paid more in dividends than any other European or American bank and returned $3.5bn to shareholders through share buybacks,” HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver said.

The bank has used share buybacks to offset the impact of shares being paid out as dividends.

The announcement takes the total of HSBC share buybacks since the second half of 2016 to $5.5bn.


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