Royal Bank to cut 400 managers

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Royal Bank of Scotland is to cut more than 400 branch and assistant managers as part of a job reduction programme announced a year ago.

RBS said Operation Columbus would trim 3,500 management positions from its 600 branches over a five-year period. More than 2,000 jobs have already gone and the bank is on target for the original figure, a spokesman said yesterday.

Banking union Bifu said the move guaranteed reduced customer service. The RBS cuts come against a background of a shakeout in finance which Lloyds chief executive Sir Brian Pitman has compared to the shakeout of British manufacturing in the 1980s.

Bifu puts the total number of jobs under threat in banking and finance at 150,000. The rise of phone banking is undercutting the economics of branch banking, according to analysts. Midland Bank caused uproar earlier this year when it announced another 1,750 job cuts after making a profit of pounds 905m in 1994.

Midland is also "de-layering" middle management throughout its branch networks. RBS and Midland want to further centralise lending decision- making, to cut costs and reduce the amount of bad debt. Branch closures also continue. TSB is closing 200 this year.

According to analysts, banks are reacting to increasing competition and static loan growth. Bifu is also worried that building societies converting to bank status will be forced by their new investors to cut costs, particularly jobs and branches.

The final number of jobs which will go in RBS's latest purge has not been finalised, but cuts have already been announced in branches around the country.

RBS says the plan is to convert many branches from being traditional banks to retail outlets under the control of senior clerks or assistant managers rather than full branch managers.

Under the first part of Operation Columbus, the axe fell on clerical staff, who did not suffer compulsory redundancies, said a spokesman. Some managers may be forced to leave, he said.

Staff numbers hit a peak in high street banks in the late 1980s, boosted by the need to sell more financial services to customers. A combination of the recession and new technology has helped send numbers plunging.

Lloyds was one of the first to wield the knife. In 1989, its UK operations employed 71,000, which Sir Brian Pitman had cut to just over 53,000 by last year.