Scott Reid: Branch closure misery for analogue generation

RBS is to axe nine branches across Edinburgh next year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
RBS is to axe nine branches across Edinburgh next year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The decision by Royal Bank of Scotland to axe half its branches in Edinburgh has understandably sparked anger among union officials, community leaders and politicians.

The move is in addition to the 16 closures across Scotland announced earlier in the year and takes the number of RBS branches in the capital to just eight.

Of course, the bailed-out lender is not alone in downsizing its physical presence in recent years. All banks and building societies are having to adapt to the digital revolution. Many people these days will struggle to recall the last time they visited their local bank branch, should it still exist.

READ MORE: RBS to close half its Edinburgh branches

Giving its reasoning for the latest round of closures, RBS points out that in the last five years, mobile and online transactions have increased by over 400 per cent with mobile transactions alone surging by an incredible 1,350 per cent.

I suspect that the younger iPhone-toting generation will merely shrug their shoulders at all this disruption and continue gazing at their mobile devices. Yet there is a price to be paid for this seemingly relentless migration from the analogue to the digital world, and not just in terms of the loss of thousands of jobs.

There is an assumption that everyone is comfortable embracing all of this tech, when many of us are not. Some of us actually still value human interaction or prefer to pay a bill in person rather than via some anonymous app. Besides, where precisely does one insert a cheque into a PC?

And what happens when it all goes a bit Pete Tong? Stable internet connectivity is not a given, devices crash, error codes are frequently unresolvable and security scares and hacks, often with dire consequences for the end user, are commonplace.

READ MORE: RBS reaches £800m settlement over 2008 rights issue

I have every sympathy with some of the RBS customers who have voiced their anger at the closure decision, which includes branches that are in more far-flung spots such as Juniper Green and Portobello. As one of them notes, if you are elderly or disabled or do not have access to a car, a whole morning could be spent just paying in a cheque.

It seems inevitable that the major banks will put up the shutters on more branches, but in doing so they would do well to consider the impact on thousands of loyal customers.

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