Lloyds Banking Group has recently announced that 49 of its branches throughout the UK will close. The announcement marks the second mass closure of Lloyds retail banking branches, after approximately 100 branches were closed during the middle of 2016.

Lloyds operates retail banks such as Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Bank and Halifax. The company noted that the closures are due to a decline in demand for traditional banking services and an increase in demand for digital banking.

The financial services group has seen a reduction in bank branch visits that has extended over several years — a trend that’s been widely reported in the industry as a whole. The closure of the bank branches could result in the loss of up to 100 jobs.

The company’s branch closures are strategic, aimed at reducing its total retail branch numbers without affecting quality of service for account holders. Lloyds stated that approximately 95% of its account holders will still be within five miles of a local bank branch.

Approximately 90% of customers of Bank of Scotland and Halifax will also be located within five miles of their nearest operational branch.

In a statement, the company said that customers “are increasingly choosing to use digital and mobile channels for their everyday banking needs. As a consequence, the number of customers visiting some of our branches has declined in recent years.”

“Branches remain a key part of the service we offer to customers, and we continue to make significant investment in revitalising our network, shaping it to their needs.”

The bank’s decision to close branches has run into opposition from the Unite union, which has claimed that the closures make it more difficult for many people to access local banking.

Unite national officer Rob MacGregor commented on the closures, stating that many were part of an “unnecessary” bank branch closure programme. MacGregor noted that Lloyds recently returned to profitability and mustn’t “ignore its corporate social responsibilities.”

The closures are part of Lloyds’ long-term strategy to reduce its physical footprint by closing an estimated 400 branches. The company plans to replace many of its bank branches with “micro branches” without counters, staffed with self-service machines instead of employees.

The micro-branches will be staffed by two people to assist with problem solving and provide specific services to customers. Customers will be connected with mortgage advisors through video link, allowing Lloyds to reduce the cost of operating its branches.

Lloyds isn’t the only banking company to cut back on physical branches in recent years. The Royal Bank of Scotland announced earlier this year that it would close up to 158 branches in response to the increase in demand for online banking services among account holders.

HSBC also announced earlier this year that it would close up to 62 additional branches, on top of 55 branches already planned for closure. Other banks to downsize their High Street footprints include the Yorkshire Building Society, which plans to close up to 48 branches.

Elliot Preece