Royal Bank of Scotland breaks vow not to close last branch in town

By Jeff Prestridge for The Mail on Sunday

Royal Bank of Scotland, 80 per cent-owned by the taxpayer, has been criticised again for not living up to claims in its much-hyped 'customer charter' that it wants to become a better bank.

Andrew Carter, leader of the Conservatives on Leeds City Council, has filed a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority over a potential breach of a commitment in RBS's charter that it would keep branches open where it is the last bank in town.

The charter, which makes 14 specific customer commitments, applies to both its RBS and NatWest brands. It was launched in June last year and made pledges on everything from serving most branch customers within five minutes through to extending opening hours in its busiest branches.

Councillor Andrew Carter (left) with a petition stands outside the empty bank with angry local John Ibison

Let down: Andrew Carter, left, and John Ibison outside the branch that closed


Carter says that the bank has broken its commitment on not closing the last bank in town after the closure last week of its NatWest branch in Farsley, a town six miles west of Leeds. The closure leaves Farsley without a bank, although the town still has a post office and a branch of the Yorkshire Building Society.

In his letter to the ASA, Carter says: 'There is no other bank in Farsley. Neither is there a bank in the adjacent communities of Calverley and Rodley. NatWest says there is a post office and a building society in Farsley, which is true, but they are not banks.'

He concludes his letter by saying: 'NatWest has once again stretched credulity and twisted words to imply one thing that actually means something quite different. I would really ask that the conduct of NatWest is thoroughly investigated as regards its advertising and future behaviour.'

On Friday, the ASA confirmed to Financial Mail that it had received Carter's complaint and that it would be assessed to see whether there were grounds for further investigation and possible adjudication.

It is not the first time the ASA has received complaints over claims made in RBS's customer charter. Late last year it ordered the bank to withdraw an advert that implied all NatWest branches would be open on a Saturday – when they weren't. The ASA's action followed two complaints from people who felt the adverts were ambiguous.

The pledge on remaining the last bank in town is 'commitment' nine and is quite categoric. 'We pledge to stay open for business if we are the last bank in town and consider a range of options to ensure a local banking service is available,' the charter says.

At the time of the charter being launched last year, Brian Hartzer, chief executive of UK Retail at RBS, said: 'Access to services is incredibly important. We're major players in the market, we have a real responsibility with our banking licence to be responsive to community concerns and one of the things that came out of our research was that the issue of accessibility was really important.'

Campaigners, such as Derek French of the Campaign for Community Banking Services, have long doubted RBS's commitment to keeping open all of its last branches in town – despite the words it uses in its charter.

This is because the charter says the bank has identified more than 100 'last bank in town' locations where it will continue to provide banking services.

But the bank is actually the last branch in town in more than 200 locations. This implies that nearly 100 last-intown branches, such as Farsley, could be vulnerable to closure.

'What RBS has done is appalling,' says Carter. 'Apart from making a joke of its charter, it has ignored a 1,200-signature petition against the closure in Farsley.

'It also says the branch suffers from insufficient customers when there were often queues outside. This is banking at its most unhelpful.'

RBS told Financial Mail: 'We are committed to offering local banking services where they are needed and regularly used by customers.

'Unfortunately, usage of the Farsley branch has fallen substantially and with several branches nearby it is no longer viable to keep it open.'

The bank also said that it was 'clear about and standing by our charter commitment to stay open for business where we are last bank in town'.

It was unaware of the ASA complaint filed by Carter.

Mutual benefit: Yorkshire is left to pick up the pieces

In the week that NatWest closed its branch in Farsley, the town’s Yorkshire Building Society branch celebrated its 30th birthday with an open day and refreshments,
cakes and balloons for visitors.

The manager, Catherine Coates, lives in Farsley and is determined that Yorkshire plays its part in the community. ‘We want to build relationships with customers,’
she says.

‘We know our customers and live among them.’

The society supports a number of local associations, including Farsley Scout Group and the nearby Rodley Nature Reserve.

‘A number of customers have come in over the past few weeks to say how disappointed they are with NatWest’s closure and how let down they feel,’ says Coates.

John Ibison, 74, a retired plasterer who lives in Farsley with his wife Marjorie, 71, used to bank with NatWest, but now has all his finances with Yorkshire. He says: ‘I like the customer service.’

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