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Lloyds urged to rethink branch closures as profits surge

(c) Sky News 2018: <a href="">Lloyds urged to rethink branch closures as profits surge</a>

Lloyds has reported a surge in first quarter pre-tax profits to £1.6bn, prompting a business group to call on the bank to "rethink" branch closures amid its digital investment drive.

The lender, which returned to private hands a year ago following its 2008 taxpayer bailout, has announced a string of closures in recent years - though it will continue to have the biggest high street presence among its rivals.

The latest cuts - a further 49 branches - were confirmed just over a week ago as the industry shifts towards digital banking.

Lloyds pointed to resilience in the UK economy for its first quarter profit growth - which represented a rise of 23% compared with the first three months of 2017.

The bottom-line growth was seized upon by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) as evidence it could easily afford to maintain branch services for its members.

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: "Now (Frankfurt: 11N.F - news) that Lloyds is well and truly back in the black, it should reconsider its aggressive branch closure programme.

"The public was there for the bank during the financial crash. It's high time that support was returned.

"With (Other OTC: WWTH - news) profits like these, is another 70 branch closures really necessary?

"When a town loses a bank branch it hurts vulnerable consumers, high street footfall and small business revenues.

"We've seen challenger banks who are expanding their branch networks also report strong results, so we know it's an approach that works from a commercial perspective.

"If a small firm can't deposit and withdraw cash easily it has to store more on site, making it a target for theft.

"Equally, many small business owners have working relationships with branch staff that go back years. That's not something that can be replaced by an app.

"If the developments at TSB over the past few days have taught us anything, it's that sometimes you just have to visit a branch in person."

:: TSB limiting access to digital platforms as IT woes continue

Sky News has asked Lloyds for a response.

The bank's results showed underlying profits, which do not reflect one-off costs, of £2bn for the three months.

However, it announced a further £90m provision for the payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal - taking its total bill to date closer towards £19bn as an August 2019 deadline for claims looms.

It was announced last week by the Financial Conduct Authority, which has an awareness campaign fronted by an animatronic head of Arnold Schwarzenegger, that total complaints against financial services firms were up 40%, with payouts topping £30bn so far.

It is expected that other major lenders, also exposed to PPI and due to report results this week, may also set aside more money to cover the growing cost of the scandal.

Lloyds said its plans and expectations for the year remained on track - with earnings continuing to be boosted by its expanded credit card operations since the acquisition of MBNA and lower funding costs.

Chief (Taiwan OTC: 3345.TWO - news) executive Antonio Horta-Osorio, said: "We have made a strong start to 2018 and have begun implementing the strategic initiatives which will further digitise the group, enhance customer propositions, maximise our capabilities as an integrated financial service provider and transform the way we work.

"The UK economy continues to be resilient, benefiting from low unemployment and continued GDP growth.

"We expect the economy to continue to perform along these lines during 2018."