By Iain Withers
LONDON (Reuters) - HSBC plans to axe 82 branches in Britain this year after a drop in footfall across its retail network and a surge in digital banking, the bank said on Tuesday.
The lender said it would be left with 511 branches in the UK after the closures, with many of those to be remodelled and some to provide fewer services.
A spokesman for HSBC said the bank would aim to redeploy affected staff to nearby branches where possible, adding that customers would see the removal of counter services in some of the retained branches.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dented bank finances, putting pressure on lenders to cut costs, while more customers have opted to bank online after being encouraged to stay at home to combat the spread of the virus.
HSBC said it had begun trials of different branch formats and decided to provide fewer full-service branches in large cities and towns while others focus on providing cash and self-service technology.
The bank said that 'pop-up' mobile branches would also be rolled out this year, adding that the trend of decreasing use of branches predated the pandemic.
"The direction of travel is really quite clear and this is borne out by the reduction in branch usage and increase in digital interaction that we are seeing first-hand," said Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK's head of network.
The Unite trade union said it recognised that branch usage had fallen because of the pandemic but urged lenders not to make cutbacks.
"Unite has called on all banks to protect their bank branch networks and avoid closures because the unquestionable long-term damage that this will do to local high streets and communities is simply unimaginable," said Unite national officer Dominic Hook.
(Reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Lawrence White and David Goodman)