Additional reporting by Bronni Hughes
Small businesses in a town have slammed the “terrible” decision by two high street banks to shut next year.
In 2024, Strood is set to lose another two of its three remaining national bank branches.
NatWest will shut on March 6 and has blamed the decision on the huge increase in online and mobile banking and the decline of customers using a counter service.
With Rochester closing its doors in June 2017 and Gillingham in June 2022, it means the nearest branch is in Chatham High Street, about two miles away.
Lloyds is the latest bank to announce its plans to close, with a spokesperson saying the decision was made after a fall in visits to the branch in recent years. It will be closing its doors on April 4.
The Barclays in the town shut in 2021, and the HSBC permanently closed in 2022.
The Strood Community Shop raises money for local causes and has been impacted by the latest bank closure announcements.
Steve Long, who runs the store, said: “We were originally with HSBC and they closed so we had to start using their Maidstone branch which took an awful lot of time out of our day.
“We then moved to NatWest and now they’ve announced they’re closing so we’re going to have to move a third time.
“We support some of the most vulnerable people in society and for them, cash is an essential way for them to manage their finances.
“They rely on face-to-face interactions, they’re less financially literate. It will increase financial exclusion in Strood.”
Del Rayes, manager of the Strood Cobbler, also worries about what losing cash access will mean for the high street.
He said: “This is just an after-effect of Covid, we’re still suffering somewhat.
“Shops are struggling generally, and closing banks is outrageous, it’s terrible.”
Nationwide will be the last national bank remaining in Strood after April. It has pledged to keep the branch open until at least 2026.
Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, said: “Ultimately, they are private organisations and they’re there to fulfil a service for their customers.
“However they do have a responsibility, we believe, to their customers and the wider access to cash
“We were lucky enough to get a free cash machine in Rochester last year, so now I’ll be looking at what the banks are going to do to work together in order to be able to keep and maintain a source of cash access outside of working hours on our high street.”