Banks cut branches across Europe in 2012

Banks cut 5,500 branches across the European Union last year, 2.5 percent of the total, leaving the region with 20,000 fewer outlets than it had when the financial industry was plunged into crisis in 2008.

Last year’s cuts come after 7,200 branches were axed in 2011, according to data analyzed by Reuters from European Central Bank statistics.

Banks across Europe have been closing branches in a bid to trim operating costs and improve their battered earnings.

Consumer take-up of online and telephone banking services has accelerated the trend.

The data show EU banks cut 8 percent of branches in aggregate in the four years to the end of 2012, leaving 218,687 branches, or one for every 2,300 people.

Last year’s sharpest cuts were largely contained to the embattled periphery.

Crisis-stricken Greece saw one of the biggest contractions in 2012, shedding 5.7 percent of its outlets, as mergers of local banks led to 219 branch closures.

The trend is expected to continue into 2013 as Piraeus shuts some of the 312 branches it snapped up from stricken Cypriot lenders in March.