RBS chief Ross McEwan has been accused of failing to respond to public anger after he told MPs the bank would press on with plans to close more than 50 branches in Scotland.
Appearing before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, Mr McEwan pledged that no further closures would be considered until at least 2020, but said shutting up to 62 branches this year was the “best way of going forward”.
He was accused “completely misunderstanding” the needs of rural communities where many of the closures will leave towns and villages without any bank branch.
During questioning, it was claimed that an independent reviewer due to begin work next month to assess the viability of ten branches given a reprieve until the end of the year has yet to be appointed, and that one organisation which had been set to take on the work has now pulled out.
And the bank denied claims by unions that over 100 staff had been issued with compulsory redundancy notices, saying that a maximum of 12 employees would lose their jobs if they could not be redeployed elsewhere within RBS.
The bank, which is majority-owned by the taxpayer, announced in December it would close 62 branches across Scotland, later giving a temporary reprieve to 10 of these until the end of 2018 for review.
Committee convener Pete Wishart asked how Mr McEwan would respond to the “disappointment, frustration and anger” of those communities who would lose their local facility.
Mr McEwan said he accepted “change is absolutely difficult”, adding “I do recognise that customers are very disappointed that their local branch is closing”.
He said: “What we’ve done here with a package of different ways of operating with this bank is, I think, the best way of going forward, that we can keep those services to our customers as well as moving away from physical distribution when it’s just not being used.”
He added: “We’ve not taken any of these closure decisions lightly. Let’s be clear, when we look at our customer behaviour the evidence is stark.
“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.
“We will make a final decision on the ten branches under review by the end of this year. Setting them aside, I am comfortable with the size of our branch network in Scotland and I think it is right alongside all of our other services.
“I want to be clear our branches do remain a core part of our service and we will not look at the size of the network again in Scotland until at least 2020.”