So RBS is closing 44 more bank branches, 14 of which are the “last bank in town”. What does that tell you about the bank? Does it underline its commitment to customers, as expressed by new boss Ross McEwan a few weeks ago?
At the end of February he said he wanted to change things. Specifically he expressed the intention to reverse the bank's position as “the least-trusted company in the least-trusted sector of the economy”. (They were his words, by the way!)
He identified trust as being key to rebuilding the bank's battered brand. He predicted that by 2020 it will have reversed its position as Britain's most-despised bank. By then it hopes to be “the number one bank for customer service and the most trusted bank in the UK”.
I have two words for Mr McEwan: Fat Chance!
When he made his laudable but lofty ambitions public I wrote in this column that I was prepared to give the bank another chance, especially if it fulfilled some of its promises to put customers first.
Yet again I've been let down by the bank. I understand the need to shut down branches from time to time if they become uneconomic or demand disappears. But RBS – along with most of the other major banks – has made a commitment not to leave customers stranded.
But this is exactly what it plans to do. Where? Here's a list of the 14 “last banks in town” that RBS is abandoning: seven are in Scotland, six in England and one in Wales.
Those in Scotland are Castletown, near Thurso; Patthead and East Linton, East Lothian; Greenlow and Newton, Scottish Borders; Bonnybridge, near Falkirk. and Chirnside, Berwickshire.
Those in England are Bollington, Cheshire; Fair Oak, near Eastleigh; Chelford, Cheshire; Highcliffe-on-Sea, Dorset; Old Roan, Liverpool; Repton, Derbyshire. The branch in Wales is Radyr, near Cardiff.
Why does it matter? Because they are essential to local communities. Closures don't just hit personal customers, but local businesses, too. In every village or town across the country where the last bank has left, local shops have quickly shut down.
RBS's move had provoked anger. Charlotte Webster, campaign director of Move Your Money said: “RBS has consistently undermined the interests of its customers and wider society since being bailed out in 2008. Not only has the bank lost the £45bn that it was bailed out with, it's also driven businesses into the ground for its own profit.
”It's no surprise, then, to see the bank let down its customers once again by upping sticks and leaving town – even where it's promised not to do so. Banks just can't be trusted to take customers' needs into account, even when the only reason it's still around is because of our support.“
Derek French, director of the Campaign for Community Banking Services, lambasted the bank for planning to shut 14 branches previously protected by the RBS's pledge not to close where it is ”last bank in town“.
”Some 247 'last-bank' communities previously protected under a pledge in the RBS and NatWest Customer Charter, whose criteria were improved and confirmed as recently as March 2012, are now vulnerable as each case will be considered 'on its merits' – merits to be decided by the bank alone,“ Mr French pointed out.
”The future of 'keep open' pledges by Lloyds Banking Group, which protects 189 branches, and the much-smaller, informal pledge by Barclays, must be regarded as at risk as they come up for review.“
The growing movement to shut last branches is one we should fight. My belief is that banks have a social responsibility to the communities they serve which means not abandoning customers. Shoving a cash machine in a local supermarket is not enough. A hole in the wall simply won't suffice if the bank's hard-nosed decision is sending local traders to the wall.
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