The Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, Ross McEwan, has defended plans to shut six of its nine branches in the Borders.
Mr McEwan was guest speaker at last week’s Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce monthly business lunch in Peebles and seized the opportunity to stand up for the controversial proposals.
Mr McEwan, having travelled up from London to be there, told the 30 or so others present about RBS’s plans to focus more on online banking.
His native New Zealand is already ahead of the UK in switching to digital services, and it is vital for regions such as the Borders to embrace new technology and innovation or run the risk of being left behind, said the 60-year-old.
Chamber vice-chairman Bruce Simpson said: “I was expecting a plethora of comments and questions from the floor about RBS branch closures in the Borders, but Mr McEwan’s very detailed and factual talk, together with his determination to attend this meeting, met with a great deal of respect from those present.”
The positive response Mr McEwan’s explanation of the reasons for closing six RBS branches in the Borders in May and June this year formed a stark contrast to criticism of the move voiced at the previous night’s meetings of Selkirk and Hawick community councils.
Selkirk community councillors voted to withdraw their custom from RBS in protest at the closure of their town’s High Street branch, and Hawick community councillors, though unwilling to follow suit, did urge other customers of their High Street bank to vote with their feet, as reported in the Southern.
Jedburgh, Duns, Eyemouth and Melrose’s RBS branches are also earmarked for the axe, leaving only three in the region – at Galashiels, Kelso and Peebles.
RBS is unswayed by the protests its closure plans have sparked so, however.
Responding to a plea for a rethink from Hawick and Denholm councillor Clair Ramage, chief executive’s office team member John Collins said: “I am genuinely sorry to hear of your concern about our decision to close our Hawick branch.
“We have considered this decision carefully, and we won’t be revisiting it.
“We have made the decision to close these branches because there has been a significant reduction in branch usage and more and more customers are banking online and on their phone.
“These changes continue apace, so we must respond to how our customers prefer to bank with us.
“In Scotland, branch usage has reduced by 44% since 2012, and we see 29 million log-ons every month to our mobile app.
“In the Hawick branch, transactions have fallen by 37% since 2011 and 74% of customers are already making use of ATMs, digital banking and telephone banking.
“We are communicating with our customers affected by the closures and proactively contacting vulnerable, business and regular branch customers.
“We are committed to ensuring our customers and communities are able to continue accessing quality face-to-face banking services once the branches close, and I am pleased to confirm that we will be introducing our mobile branch to Hawick.
“Customers will be able to carry out a range of personal banking transactions, including cashing cheques, making account deposits, paying bills and support with opening accounts.
“Once we have secured the necessary permissions, we will confirm and promote the timetables and route information to customers, in advance of the branch closing.”