Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) boss Ross McEwan has defended the closure of 62 Scottish branches as ‘difficult’, but commercially necessary.
The closures are part of a larger 162 branch plan across the country, but Scottish MPs had demanded Mr McEwan appeared before them as many of the Scottish branches served isolated rural communities.
Appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster he said: “Branch use has fallen dramatically – the great majority of our customers want to bank when it suits them and at all hours.
“They aren’t using a branch as their first point of call now at all. We have to respond to changing trends and we have to invest in a range of services to give customers what they want and what they expect.”
Scottish Nationalist MP Pete Wishart, chairman of the committee, said the bank had suffered a loss of reputation because of its plans. He also asked Mr McEwan if he recognised the level of anger the proposed branch closures had generated.
Mr McEwan defended the closures, saying the moves were in relation to customer choices and that mobile banks were expected to pay a larger role. The bank recognised change was difficult and no closures had been ‘taken lightly.’
He added: “I do recognise that customers are very disappointed that their local branch is closing.
“My view is what we have done here with the package of different ways of operating is the best way going forward, that we can keep those services going to our customers as well as moving away from physical distribution when it is just not being used.”
The committee were told that RBS had also decided to review the closure plans for 10 of the branches. Eight have been classified as ‘last bank in town’ with two others included because of other factors.
The future of all 10 is to be independently reviewed between June and August and Mr McEwan promised: “We will absolutely take the review comments seriously and my view is if they come back and say, for example, ‘all 10 should stay open’, we will leave all those 10 open.”
Some members of the committee remained unconvinced that the bank was doing the right thing.
SNP member Deirdre Brock said: “RBS had many questions to answer and it was disappointing that they failed in so many respects.
“This is a bank that now looks purely interested in maximising profits and losing its community responsibilities.”
Conservative John Lamont described the evidence he had heard as ‘pathetic’, adding: “The comments by Ross McEwan and his associates showed a complete lack of understanding about the impact losing a bank will have on rural communities.
“Despite the bank’s warm words, the reality on the ground is somewhat different and harsher for communities who are losing bank branches and mobile banking services.”