There was shock today when news came through that the Royal Bank of Scotland announced it intends to close down its Newton Stewart branch in October.
On Thursday afternoon the Edinburgh-based lender, which is 73 per cent owned by the taxpayer, issued the following statement: “We have taken the difficult decision to close the Royal Bank of Scotland Newton Stewart branch on 9th October 2017.
“The way people choose to bank with us has changed radically over the last few years. Between 2010 and 2015, mobile and online transactions have increased by over 400% and mobile transactions alone have increased by 1,350%. Since 2011 we have seen the number of transactions in the Newton Stewart branch decline by 20%. These customers are actively choosing to bank in different ways, with 54.9% of customers choosing to use our digital banking options.
“We are communicating with our customers affected by the closure and proactively contacting vulnerable and regular branch customers. We have listened closely to feedback from local communities and have extended the time between announcing our decision and the branch closure to six months. This has been done in order to ensure our customers have time to consider the right banking options for them.
“We are committed to ensuring our customers and communities are able to continue accessing quality banking services. As part of this, we have created a new role - our Community Banker - who will serve the local area and provide customers with personal assistance and support accessing the right banking options for their needs, as well as help with achieving their financial plans and goals.
“We know that not all of our customers are comfortable and familiar with using online or mobile banking, so we have created a new specialist taskforce of Digital Experts who will be dedicated to supporting our customers with training and support with digital skills.
“We are following the Access to Banking protocol and we have made the decision after careful consideration of a wide range of factors, including regular branch usage and the alternative ways our customers can bank with us. We provide a range of alternative ways to bank, tailored to the needs of our customers and reflective of the way they live their lives. These include:
• Online and mobile: we are committed to educating customers on how to use these channels securely and simply.
• Telephony: our customers can contact us over the phone, via web-chat and social media. Our contact centres are open 24/7 and teams are trained to answer almost every query at first point of contact. Services available over the phone range from transfers and payments to opening new accounts, financial reviews and support with using digital banking.
•Post Office: We have a national agreement with the Post Office to provide our customers with a range of banking services. Customers can pay money in, take money out, check balances and business customers can get coinage. The closest Post Office is 0.08 miles away from the branch; there is 1 Post Office within 3 miles of the branch.
•ATMs: There are 6 free to use ATMs within 1 mile of the branch.
• Mobile branch: We are introducing a mobile branch service to the community and we will be engaging with our customers and the local community to understand the best day and time for the mobile branch to visit.
•Community Banker: *a new role*, serving in the community and surrounding areas. Community Bankers will provide our customers with personal assistance in accessing the right banking options for their needs, as well as help with achieving their financial plans and goals. They will be able to work flexibly to support customers, including holding customer appointments in community locations and at customer homes where necessary.
• Royal Bank of Scotland TechXpert: *a new role*, our experts will offer training and support with digital skills, serving the branch until it closes.
•Other branches: Our nearest branch, Stranraer, is 24.7 miles away.
“I hope I have managed to explain the reasons for the closure and the mitigating actions that we are taking.
“ If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.”
Galloway MSP Finlay Carson commented: “I was troubled to learn of this closure, which will be a major blow for the local community of Newton Stewart. There is a large population of older aged residents in the area who find online banking challenging and will be most negatively impacted upon by the closure of this branch. Rural communities such as Newton Stewart are still struggling to access high quality broadband facilities which means online banking is not always a viable option.
“The fact that the nearest RBS branch will now be 24 miles away in Stranraer will make it extremely difficult for many customers to access a branch when required.
“This announcement will also be of great concern to the local businesses in the area who often require a wide range of services from bank branches that cannot be provided through the Post Office or over the telephone. It is important that every effort is taken to mitigate the effect on businesses, as this could potentially have a negative knock on effect to the local economy.
“Given the potential impact on local residents and businesses in Newton Stewart I would urge RBS to reconsider this planned branch closure.”
Mid Galloway Councillor Graham Nicol added: “I am disappointed RBS are closing this country branch. It denudes the area of an important and vital facility and will cause great inconvenience to a lot of customers in the Machars.”