I see that RBS is closing a further 54 Royal Bank of Scotland branches, with the loss of 258 jobs. It will leave them with just 54 branches in England and Wales.
The branches will be shut in January 2019 and are in addition to 162 branch closures already announced this year, with the loss of 792 jobs. However, RBS said that there will be no further closures before 2020. Phew! Mind you, isn’t that just over fifteen months away? In fairness to them, they do own Nat West and there would have been duplication in some high streets where they are closing branches.
Of course, it’s not only RBS Group slashing the branch network. Over the past few years, bank branches have been disappearing from our high streets at a frightening pace. Banks say that this has been driven by a rapid increase in online and mobile banking, and a rapid decline in use of physical branches.
My wife works for a high street bank and while redundancy would no longer be a catastrophe for her, I know she’s concerned about some of her younger colleagues with mortgages and young families.
I must confess that I have not visited a bank for a few years and so I can hardly grumble when branches close. When I did last go I remember thinking that there were so many machines present that it resembled the inside of a spaceship. I’ve just possibly had a peek into the future when I spent a few days in Stockholm and what struck me most, apart from the price of a pint, was that hardly anywhere accepted cash. Even the taxis only took card payments. They don’t need cash machines there, never mind banks.
Nonetheless, many people are angry at branch closures, especially the very elderly, for some of whom smartphone banking and contactless cards hold few attractions. Age UK says 4.5 million over-65s are not online. Rural communities tend to be hit hardest, with people often facing long journeys to reach their nearest bank. Furthermore, some people are wary of using online banking because of the fraud epidemic sweeping the country, with tens of thousands of these frauds taking place annually.
Whether we like it or not further closures are inevitable and while Chester will probably retain banks for some years yet, I suspect outlying towns and villages will be devoid of them within too many years. We will probably see more of the old branches converted into wine bars – I just hope the beer is cheaper than in Stockholm