What used to be my architecturally splendid local branch of Barclays has been a pub for more than ten years now.

In the shopping parade where NatWest, the Midland and Barclays once faced each other, each with a real-life manager, there is now a solitary self-standing cash machine.

It charges £1.50 a throw, provided you are not put off by a sign threatening to spray tell-tale dye on its contents if it suspects you are trying some hanky-panky.

Who could want more, though, in these days of telephone and internet banking? Your pay, your pension, even your dole arrives electronically. You can draw cash at hundreds of holes in the wall - and it is not too hard to find a free one if you put your mind to it.

If you are paid by cheque, you can pop it in the post, or entrust it to one of those automatic deposit envelopes.

True, if ever you are so old-fashioned as to sell a car for cash, you may have a problem. You can probably still find a branch somewhere to pay it in, but the fact that you have been a familiar face for the past twenty years won't necessarily stop them going into their anti-money laundering routine.

Now, after a quarter-century of hard-nosed bankers vying with each other to close the most branches one of them has discovered that it is not like that at all. Andy Hornby, set to take the helm at HBOS this summer, has discovered that people like branches. He is going to open 50 more of them and enlarge another 50.

He found out that even insomniacs who do their banking on the phone or the internet at dead of night, like to have a branch as well. HBOS is keen to recruit disconsolate customers from the Big Four. It's tough to do that if you must start by telling them they will have to get by without a local branch.

Equally, the branch is the place where sales people can spell out face to face the wonders of the insurance policies, ISAs and savings plans that HBOS has to offer. It works better than junk mail.

Why it took a bold stroke of executive thinking to discover this phenomenon is not revealed. The queues have been telling the story for years. Those people are not lining up to keep out of the rain or because they have nothing better to do.

Mr Hornby, as it happens, is not alone in his conclusion. At the Royal Bank of Scotland, hard-nosed Sir Fred Goodwin has given his call-centre system a tweak so that it is once again possible - with a little persistence - to speak to your own NatWest branch.

Better still, when you get through it isn't somebody in Bangalore pretending to be the branch.

That is not the same as buying back the pub and fitting it out as a bank again, let alone equipping it with a manager empowered to lend, or refuse to lend, as he thought fit without a faceless credit-scoring rigmarole.

Maybe that is as well. The bank manager knew about his customers' credit-worthiness because he could, and often did, start his day reading everybody's cheques. If you didn't want him to know how you spent your money, you paid cash. ..SUPL: