Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of jobs hit as 158 RBS and NatWest branches close amid banking 'shift'

More than 150 Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest branches are to close with hundreds of job losses after a "dramatic shift" in customer banking.

The decision will affect 30 RBS and 128 NatWest branches and hit around 470 jobs.

The company said it had considered branch usage and the alternative ways customers can bank, adding: "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%."

Around 770 staff will be affected by the closures, but 300 will be moved to other jobs.

Two new roles have been created - community banker and NatWest or Royal Bank of Scotland TechXpert.

Community bankers will serve the local area, with a particular focus on rural communities, providing customers with personal assistance and support.

There will be 50 community bankers in post across the UK by the end of 2017.

The specialist taskforce of NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland TechXperts will support customers with training and support with digital skills.

An RBS spokesman said: "Many more customers are choosing to do their banking using mobile and online services over traditional branch counters.

"We interact with our customers over 20 times more through digital channels than physical ones. We have 4.2 million personal mobile users, up by over two million since 2014. As customers change the way they bank with us, we must change the way we serve them.

"The role of the branch is fast moving to a centre for advice, away from basic transactions. While the branch will still be a core part of our offering to customers, inevitably some branches will have to close."

Following the closures there will be 151 RBS and 856 NatWest branches left.

Unite union acting general secretary Gail Cartmail accused RBS, which is majority owned by the public, of "turning its back" on the communities that have been the foundation of its business for generations.

She said: "That's bad news for our members who now have to live with the threat of redundancy, and it's bad news for customers and businesses.

"Banks have a duty to the wider community and that is especially the case for banks like RBS that have large taxpayer-owned shareholdings.

"People like the face-to-face contact that having a physical presence in the high street provides. Pensioners, people with mobility issues, and those without internet access are being particularly hard-hit, especially in rural areas. Small businesses are also badly affected, especially those that rely on cash-handling.

"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."

Unite said surveys have found that most people believe convenient local branches are essential or very important to them.

Scottish Labour's economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie branded the news " deeply concerning".

She said: " RBS needs to provide urgent clarity about when branches are going to close and what will happen to those facing redundancy.

"This once again proves that automation presents a real threat to our workforce across Scotland.

"While the SNP obsesses about separation, Scottish Labour will work to deliver the jobs of the future and protect Scottish workers."

The Federation of Small Businesses also expressed concern, with Scottish policy convenor Andy Willox stating: "We know that bank branches are closing faster in Scotland - and we're frustrated to see RBS show so little loyalty to our high streets. Branch closures put pressure on local economies and make it harder for local firms to access banking services.

"While more people might be doing online banking, that's no good for cash-based businesses or for rural firms with poor broadband. As the big banks shut down branches in chorus, it unfortunately seems like the banking industry is content to leave some customers behind."