By Rupert Jones
Up to 362 jobs could go, prompting union to accuse bank of turning its back on loyal communities
Royal Bank of Scotland is axing 158 branches, most of them NatWest outlets, with the loss of up to 362 jobs.
The group, which is 73% taxpayer-owned, blamed the move on customers spurning the traditional branch counter service in favour of doing their banking on the internet and mobile phones.
RBS is the latest high street player to announce branch cuts. In January, HSBC said it was shutting a further 62 branches this year, on top of 55 already earmarked for closure, while Yorkshire building society revealed it was closing 48 branches, 28 of which are Norwich & Peterborough outlets. Last July, Lloyds Banking Group announced the closure of 200 branches.
The Unite union accused RBS of “turning its back” on communities that had been the foundation of its business for generations, and said these latest cuts were on top of 86 closures announced late last year.
However, the group said: “As customers change the way they bank with us, we must change the way we serve them.”
A spokesman for the bank said after a review of its network a decision had been taken to close 30 RBS branches and 128 NatWest outlets.
He said: “We have seen a dramatic shift in the way our customers are choosing to bank, with more using mobile and online over traditional branch counters. Simple transactions undertaken in branch at NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland have fallen by 43% since 2010, while online and mobile transactions have increased by more than 400%.”
About 770 staff will be affected by the closures, of whom 300 will be moved to other jobs. That leaves 472 at risk of redundancy, though the bank said the maximum number that would be leaving the bank was 362.
The spokesman said the role of the branch was fast moving to a “centre for advice” and away from basic transactions. He added the branch “will still be a core part of our offering to customers”, and said RBS had extended the time between announcing its decision and the branch closure to six months, so customers had more time to consider their options.
The group also said it had created two roles to support our customers – community banker and “TechXpert”.
Thirty-four of the branches being axed are in London and the south-east; 30 are in the north of England. After the closures there will be 151 RBS and 856 NatWest branches remaining.
Unite has renewed calls for a moratorium on branch closures. Its acting general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “It’s time for banking regulators and government to intervene to force banks to maintain an adequate network that properly serves communities across the UK.”
High street banks closed more than 1,000 branches in the UK between January 2015 and January 2017, with HSBC axing the most over this period, according to the consumer group Which?.
However, last summer, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) said the average high street bank branch dealt with only 71 customer visits a day – a 32% decline since 2011 – as consumers switched to online methods of managing money. The average number of visits was projected to fall to only 51 a day within five years.
The BBA report claimed customers were the biggest winners from the “consumer-led revolution” but some commentators have expressed concern that advances in technology were being used to justify further branch closures. Campaigners have said more closures would affect vulnerable customers and regular users of branch counters, such as traders and voluntary groups.