A question mark hangs over the future of four of the five TSB branches in the Borders after bosses refused to confirm they would remain open beyond the end of this year.
That comes after the bank announced it is reducing hours at 70 of its branches across Scotland, including those in Hawick, Kelso, Jedburgh and Peebles.
TSB’s Galashiels branch is the only one here not facing having its hours cut.
Speaking at a meeting of the UK Government’s Scottish affairs committee attended by senior managers from TSB, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander and the Bank of Scotland on Tuesday, Borders MP John Lamont said: “The reality is that other banks have done the same and the conclusion of that process has been closures.”
In response, TSB’s distribution manager for Scotland, Carol Anderson, could not provide any examples of banks reducing their opening hours which did not then lead to their closure.
She was also unable to guarantee the future of the firm’s Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso branches beyond the end of the year.
That uncertain future is just the latest blow to Borderers following a string of bank closures in recent years, most recently by the Royal Banks of Scotland. It shut branches in Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh, Melrose, Duns and Eyemouth despite local opposition last year.
Hitting out at the banks for failing to to try to keep branches going and for misunderstanding rural customers, Mr Lamont asked bosses: “Why do you automatically decide to close the branch rather than looking at alternative services which might entice people in and increase your numbers?”
While some claimed they were trying to offer alternative services, all said that high streets were in decline and there was little they could do.
Susan Allen, head of retail and business banking at Santander, also told the committee that elderly customers “could very easily” do their banking at home.
Mr Lamont insisted that a physical branch was the preference of many of his older constituents, though.
The Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP told her: “I think you should be looking after your most vulnerable customers, and I would suggest to you that the customers you refer to are people which you owe a much higher duty of care to compared to anybody else who may have other options of banking available to them.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Lamont added: “These comments just reinforce my view that banks really do not understand the customers and communities they serve, particularly in rural areas.
“I was particularly irritated to hear banks telling us that high streets were dying when they themselves are one major reason why smaller communities are struggling.
“Access to financial services is becoming increasingly difficult in the Borders, and without a change in priorities from the major banks, this trend is going to continue.”
Announcing a reduction of hours at its Hawick, Kelso, Jedburgh and Peebles branches - which are currently open five days a week from Monday to Friday – last month, a spokesperson for TSB said: “We know the way our customers do their everyday banking is changing. To make sure we meet the future needs of our customers and local communities, we’re looking at how we can make changes to invest in our branch and digital services.
“This includes adjusting the hours of our quieter branches, as well as re-fitting some branches and opening new ones.”
From July this year, Hawick’s TSB branch in the High Street will be open from 9.30am to 4.30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The Jedburgh branch in Canongate will only be open on Tuesday and Friday, from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
The branch in The Square in Kelso will be open from 9.30am to 4.30pm on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and Peebles’ High Street branch will only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9.30am to 4.30pm.
The banks said the decision had been made based on detailed analysis of how customers were using the branch; other ways customers banked; local knowledge of alternatives available to customers, including proximity of other TSB branches; and the impact on customers including those who may need additional support.
It added that external cash machines would continue to be available all day, every day.