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NatWest/RBS bosses on why the bank is closing 259 branches this year

Watch our exclusive video interview with RBS CEO Ross McEwan on branch closures, mobile banking and more

Despite radical plans to close a quarter of its bank branches this year amid a surge in digital banking, the men who run NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) believe there is still a future for a physical bank on our high streets, an exclusive interview with Which? reveals. 

We sat down with RBS Group chief executive Ross McEwan and Les Matheson, the bank’s chief executive for personal and business banking, to put questions from real NatWest customers directly to the people in charge of the bank.

In our video interview, they discuss why the bank is dramatically reducing its branch network, why mobile banking is worth considering and what they see as the opportunities – and the threats – posed by open banking.

Check back to which.co.uk on Saturday, where we’ll be publishing part two of our exclusive interview with Ross McEwan and Les Matheson, and hear more about how the bank is acting to protect its customers from scams.

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NatWest chiefs on… bank branch closures

In December last year, RBS announced that it was closing a staggering 259 bank branches in 2018 – a quarter of its branch network. That included 62 Royal Bank of Scotland and 197 NatWest branches, plus 11 Ulster Bank branches which were previously announced.

This is in line with a huge reduction in branches across the sector in recent years – since 2015, Which? research puts the figure at more than 1,800.

At the time, the bank said the driving force was that the ‘number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40% and mobile transactions have increased by 73% over the same period.’

Customers wanted to know why the bank was closing so many branches, where they can expect to do their banking business when the branches have gone – and what action the bank is taking to protect vulnerable customers and people in rural areas who may be hurt by this decision. 

Here’s what the chief executives of the bank had to say.

In the video, Ross McEwan says that mobile transactions have risen by 78%. NatWest has since confirmed that the actual figure is 73%.

NatWest chiefs on… mobile banking

Of course, the banking industry argues that the rapid rise of mobile banking has forced it to accelerate its reduction in physical branches.

A report published last year by the banking trade body, UK Finance, found that over the past five years use of banking apps rocketed by 354%. There were reportedly 19.6 million banking app users across the UK in 2016, with 159 logins occurring every second.

But banking on your phone isn’t for everyone. Hear what Ross McEwan and Les Matheson have to say about the mobile revolution, and what might be coming down the line for the banks’ mobile services.

NatWest chiefs on… open banking

January saw the launch of open banking – a way for current account holders to securely share their data online with third parties to analyse their spending, aggregate their information and switch to personalised deals.

The hope is that open banking will spur competition in the current account market, and could invite big tech companies to come and supply financial services to people.

So, is NatWest worried that the likes of Google, Amazon or Apple could use open banking to do the bank out of business?

Come back to which.co.uk on Saturday to see part two of our exclusive interview with RBS chief executive Ross McEwan and personal and business banking CEO Les Matheson.

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