SNP urges reversal of programme

RBS boss admits branch closures will be ‘painful’

Ross McEwan

Ross McEwan: ‘let’s not get distracted’ (photo by Terry Murden)

The SNP has demanded RBS halt its branch closure programme after CEO Ross McEwan admitted, that it would be “painful” for customers, and hundreds of local staff who stand to lost their jobs.

In an email leaked by an RBS insider Mr McEwan also admits the backlash from communities in the media made “very uncomfortable reading”.

He also described as “unacceptable” the contents of a memo from an RBS member of staff in 2009 suggesting some customers need to hang themselves.

However, he appears to adopt a firm resistance to calls for change by saying: “Let’s not get distracted, and let’s keep focusing on our customers.”

Mr Mr McEwan and RBS chairman Sir Howard Davies will appear before MPs on the Treasury Select Committee on 30 January.

Under current RBS plans, 62 branches across Scotland will close and 13 Scottish towns will lose their only bank.

SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford has been leading the campaign to save the Scottish branches from closure, and has called on the UK government to intervene as the majority shareholder.

The SNP RBS has refused requests to publish the total number of transactions for each branch, instead only publishing the number of customers who visit their local branch every week of the year. It nots that RBS has claimed the branch in Kyle has only 51 “regular” customers, yet it has 25,000 transactions.

Mr Blackford MP, said: “RBS are right to admit that axing 62 branches across Scotland will be painful to customers, including many who will lose their only local bank. It will also be painful to the hundreds of RBS branch staff across local communities who stand to lose their jobs.

“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 SNP will continue to campaign to keep these banks open, and I will continue to pressure the UK government to do the right thing, and take action as the majority shareholder.

“When George Osborne was chancellor, he intervened to remove Stephen Hester as CEO. If the Government can play a role in the removal of a CEO it can play a role in making sure our rural communities do not lose banking services.

“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.”

Leaked email from RBS CEO Ross McEwan to RBS staff:

Dear colleagues

With January already past the half-way mark, I know you will be finalising your objectives, refreshing your 90 day plans and making a fast start on another year of progress. 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 ten year high. Looking ahead, we have plenty of new challenges to take on – going further, faster on digital, intensifying our customer focus, and finding new ways of working so we can move forward at pace as we get used to constant change.

It’s an exciting time for us as we step closer to being able to deliver sustainable profits, but the last few weeks have also reminded us of the scrutiny we can expect from our stakeholders, and I wanted to specifically address some of the issues that have been discussed in the media.

This week, as part of its review into the bank’s former Global Restructuring Group, the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) released a document written by a junior manager who was in GRG back in 2009. The memo includes some appalling language about customers, and has unsurprisingly drawn a lot of attention in the press and on social media. While its contents were never RBS policy, or widely shared within the bank, I want to underline that what was described in that document was completely unacceptable, and serves as a reminder of why we have done so much work over the last few years to change our culture and make this a much more customer-focused bank.

Our Chairman Howard Davies and I are due to appear in front of the TSC on 30 January where I will again acknowledge the bank did not live up to the standards we had set ourselves and got a number of things wrong in dealing with customers at a time they needed us most. We must also remember that the central allegation that GRG systematically distressed small businesses has not been upheld by our regulator, the FCA.

Another issue that’s had lots of headlines has been the liquidation of the support services firm Carillion. We have been a long-time supporter of the firm, and our Restructuring team have been outstanding in the work they’ve done to try and help it through its problems. However, we also have a responsibility to our shareholders, and unfortunately, along with a number of other banks, we concluded it did not have a viable route forward, given the scale of its difficulties. Our focus now is on helping the many firms in Carillion’s supply chain who have been impacted, and I’m pleased that we have announced £75m of funding to give extra support to our business customers.

Finally, our recent announcement on branch closures has also been widely discussed, particularly in Scotland, and this week Les Matheson and Jane Howard spoke at the Scottish Affairs Committee about the decisions we have taken, and why.

Shutting branches is always a difficult choice, but it’s important to understand that these decisions are being driven by customer behaviour. We’ve seen a massive switch to online and mobile banking, while branch usage has dropped substantially by 40% 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.

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 – and that is down to your hard work and commitment. I would like to thank you all for this. Let’s not get distracted, and let’s keep focusing on our customers.



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