A decision by HSBC to stop offering a Welsh speaking customer service phone line in January has been criticised by Gwynedd politicians.

A letter from the bank to Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS Mabon ap Gwynfor confirms the service will end on 15 January. The letter states “this decision has not been taken lightly”, but “after an in-depth review of our Welsh speaking customer service phone line, we have found this line is no longer being fully utilised”. The review revealed “a steady decline in usage”, with 22 calls into the line each day, compared to 18,000 into the bank’s English-speaking lines, and 73 per cent of service users only call once or twice a year.

“After 15 January, if customers need to call us, they will still receive the service they are used to, but in English. Our English-speaking agents will be able to assist with any customer banking needs,” the letter adds.

“We recognise that for some customers, banking in Welsh is still their preference, so we can arrange a call-back in Welsh, within three working days, to help with any questions they may have. Whilst we understand it is not their first choice, we have confirmed that all customers are able to bank in English.”

HSBC has created an outreach programme to support specific customers who hold vulnerabilities or call frequently, and all the other Welsh services the bank offers will remain in place including Welsh speaking colleagues in half of its Welsh branches, responding to Welsh customer correspondence in Welsh, and some of our branches in Wales offering a full translation service.

Mr ap Gwynfor MS and Liz Saville Roberts MP said: ‘’It is a huge disappointment to hear about HSBC’s decision to axe their Welsh Language telephone service which, for many customers, is a vital resource. We have witnessed many branches closing, especially in rural areas such as ours, cash services being restricted, and now the Welsh Language service being axed. Many of our constituents use HSBC because of its Welsh language service, and it is fair to say that the bank has done very little to promote it. This is a significant blow to their customers in Wales especially the older generation and those who do not have access to digital technology. The bank’s promise to ‘arrange a call back in Welsh, within 3 working days’ not only displays a crass insensitivity to the financial pressure that some people are facing, but it is also dangerous. For many, accessing their bank through Welsh is not a choice, it is a necessity. It must also be a right following the Welsh Language Act 1993 and Welsh Language Measure 2011. HSBC needs to reverse this decision now and move towards the active promotion of Welsh language services across its business.’’

Welsh Conservative Shadow Welsh Language Minister, Samuel Kurtz MS, has also criticised the move, saying: “The decision by HSBC to no longer provide a Welsh language customer service line from January is bitterly disappointing. With high street banks shutting their branches, leaving holes in our high streets, telephone banking has been a lifeline for a number of customers.

“The offer of a 'call back' service, which could take up to three days, for those wanting to use the Welsh language is a bit of a token gesture from a bank which at one time claimed to be the 'the world's local bank'.

“For a bank operating globally in a number of languages, I strongly urge HSBC to reconsider their decision and to keep Welsh-language provision available for customers as and when they need it.”