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NatWest group shutters 32 more branches as digital shift continues

Banking group announces more branch closures as part of its digital transformation, but promises that no customers will be left behind

NatWest has announced the closure of 32 branches as customers increasingly switch to digital banking channels, but promises that no customers will be left behind.

The banking group is closing 11 Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) branches and 21 NatWest branches from May this year.

NatWest branches set to close include Piccadilly & New Bond Street, Leeds Victoria and Swanley in Kent, while RBS closures include Nottingham City, Bishopsgate and Harrow.

“As with many industries, most of our customers are shifting to mobile and online banking, because it’s faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives,” said a NatWest spokesperson.

But the spokesperson added: “We understand and recognise that digital solutions aren’t right for everyone or every situation, and that when we close branches, we have to make sure that no one is left behind.”

The pace of branch closures is causing concern among consumer groups. In December, consumer rights organisation Which? revealed that since the beginning of 2015, banks and building societies have closed or scheduled the closure of 4,734 branches in the UK.

Its analysis showed that an average of 60 UK bank branches were closed in every month of 2021, with 298 UK bank branches closed between June and August alone. Which? called for a pause in bank branch closures amid fears that people could be left without easy access to cash and services.

The take-up of digital banking services accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic and, coupled with banks’ desire to cut operational costs, accelerated closures, with the future of branch networks uncertain. A recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that 65% of bank executives believe the branch-based banking model will be dead in five years’ time.

The pandemic acted as a showcase for digital services, moving more people onto digital channels. The use of cash dropped and contactless payment methods skyrocketed as people tried to avoid physical contact with other people and things. This is set to have a lasting effect, with many people who were traditionally reluctant to use digital channels moving to them in droves during the pandemic.

In December, Which? demanded that any closures should be subject to greater scrutiny than is currently required. It wants independent assessments made of the impacted communities’ cash needs, with a summary of this assessment made public. It also wants banks to ensure there is no gap in provision of cash and services for people who need it, particularly the elderly and vulnerable.

After announcing the latest closures, NatWest said: “We take our responsibility seriously to support the people who face challenges in moving online, so we are investing to provide them with support and alternatives that work for them.”

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