Santander customers who use the bank's agencies will have to travel to branches instead from October, after it announced plans to close all 139 outlets in rural and suburban areas.

Agencies are independently-owned but operate in partnership with Santander to give customers access to limited banking services, including depositing and withdrawing cash (see our Best Bank Accounts guide if you're thinking of switching).

They are often based in the offices of estate agents and insurance brokers in remote communities, and are particularly useful for those who don't live near a bank branch.

But Santander is closing all of its agencies between now and October, leaving thousands of the bank's rural customers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to travel miles if they want to bank in a branch.

The banking giant took over 88 new agencies from Halifax in 2010. On that occasion, a Santander spokesman described agencies as the "lifeblood of rural communities".

I use Santander's agencies. Will I be affected?

Other than your agency closing, Santander says nothing will change with regards to your account or financial products.

The bank will write to all affected customers telling them where their nearest Santander branch is. It is also encouraging customers to use telephone and internet banking where possible.

Why is Santander doing this?

Santander says it wants to concentrate operations on its branches, which offer full banking services, and says the investment needed to bring agencies up to the level of a full service branch would be a "financial challenge".

Steve Pateman, head of UK banking at Santander, says: "Consolidating our operations is a vital next step for Santander. It allows us to concentrate on further enhancements and investment in our proprietary branch network, including branch openings and refurbishments."

Do other banks still have agencies?

Some building societies still use agencies, but the UK's biggest, Nationwide, closed all of its 130 agencies in 2010.

As for banks, Halifax shut 265 outlets the same year. It and other Lloyds Banking Group brands, Barclays, HSBC, RBS and NatWest have branches in some rural areas, but not agencies.