RBS chief Ross McEwan says bank closure plan “painful” for customers but indicates no U-turn, according to leaked staff

THE Royal Bank of Scotland management admits in a leaked staff memo that its controversial branch closure plan will be “painful” for customers but it gives no indication it will bow to political pressure and reverse its decision.

The Edinburgh-based bank has come in for heavy criticism for its announcement of a wave of branch closures, 62 of which are in Scotland, and which is expected to lead to hundreds of job losses. RBS says it is responding to the change in the way customers use banks.

In the leaked memo, Ross McEwan, the bank’s Chief Executive, told staff: “We go into 2018 in good shape; our capital position is sound, we’re delivering exciting new innovations that offer a better customer experience, and employee engagement is at a 10-year high.”

But he also focused on the controversies surrounding RBS.

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Last week, the Commons Treasury Committee published a memo sent by a junior manager to the bank’s Global Restructuring Group[GRG] staff in 2009, which said: “Sometimes you need to let customers hang themselves.”

During a subsequent debate at Westminster, MPs heard how RBS’s treatment of small businesses could be the “largest theft anywhere” as it carved up firms like a “Sunday roast” because they wanted to move away or make a complaint.

Mr McEwan, who is due to appear next week before the Treasury Committee, condemned the junior manager’s memo for its “appalling language,” which he insisted was “completely unacceptable”.

On the branch closures plan, the bank chief said such a move was always difficult but the decision was driven by customer behaviour.

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“We’ve seen a massive switch to online and mobile banking, while branch usage has dropped substantially by 40 per cent since 2014. I do appreciate that the transition is painful for some customers and colleagues and our job must be to make sure that the right measures are in place to help people through the change.

“Through our Community Bankers, mobile branches, TechXperts, and partnership with the Post Office, there are now more ways to do everyday banking than ever before.”

He added: “As a largely state-owned bank, we will always be held to a higher standard than others, and together with the recent press coverage, this can make for very uncomfortable reading. But I want to say that this coverage does not reflect the bank we are now. We should take pride in the fact that over the last few years we have become a very different bank…”

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At Westminster, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader, said: “This programme of mass branch closures is not just a ‘difficult’ and ‘painful’ choice, it is the wrong choice, based on misleading figures and a flawed case.

“If it goes ahead it will have huge consequences for local people and businesses, so it is no surprise that RBS have found the scrutiny and backlash from communities uncomfortable.”

The Highland MP pledged that his party would continue to campaign to keep the branches open, including putting pressure on the UK Government, as the majority shareholder, to stop RBS’s closure plan.

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“We collectively saved RBS in the bail-out in 2008; we did not do this for RBS to turn its back on our communities. RBS has a duty to its customers, they must not repay our communities by withdrawing from them and the Tories cannot just turn their back on rural Scotland,” he added.

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