NatWest becomes first bank this year to push through new round of branch closures… and tries to keep it quiet!
NatWest has become the first bank this year to push through a new round of branch closures.
Although the bank made no official announcement of the 32 branches that it will axe across its NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland brands later this year, it confirmed its decision after it was leaked to The Mail on Sunday.
‘We can confirm we’ve made the difficult decision to close 32 branches,’ it said. ‘These are under the NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland brands in England and Wales.’
It added that the closures were a result of ‘most of our customers shifting to mobile and online banking because it’s faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives’.
A sign of the times: NatWest made no official announcement of the 32 branches that it will axe
The closures are the first to attract independent scrutiny from cash machine network provider Link under a new scheme agreed with the banks by the Access to Cash Action Group.
The scheme is designed to protect communities which are losing their last high street bank branch.
The group, chaired by ‘cash champion’ Natalie Ceeney, has persuaded the banks to sign up to a voluntary arrangement whereby Link is allowed to assess the impact on access to cash in any community where a closure will leave it bankless.
If Link believes the closure will compromise the community’s access to cash, it can order the banks to collectively finance the installation of a free-to-use cash machine, improve the facilities at the local Post Office, or fund a new style banking hub.
Such hubs, successfully trialled last year, are operated by an independent company such as the Post Office.
But customers of all the major banks can use them and speak to a representative from their own bank on a specific day of the week. The Access to Cash Action Group is hoping between 20 and 25 banking hubs will be up and running by the end of the year.
Details of NatWest’s 32 closures were sent to Link ahead of last week. Only one branch closure is being scrutinised – the NatWest branch in Headingley, Leeds.
Link told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We have already started a review to assess the quality of alternative access to cash services.’ Headingley does have a local post office.
Currently, Link can only assess the need for access to cash in communities left bankless by a branch closure announced since the start of this year.
But the Access to Cash Action Group is hopeful that from July, communities that have already lost their last bank will be able to demand that Link do an independent assessment.
Experts believe 800 bank branches will shut this year. Sources say Lloyds will be the next to carry out a cull although the bank will not confirm this.