New head of high street banking Robin Bulloch said he wants branch managers to be “visible and known in their communities”.
The plan is to take the number from 160 to 240, replacing sub-managers and re-establishing the sort of local ties that branch managers traditionally enjoyed.
In his first interview since becoming managing director, Bulloch said this will be the centrepiece of his plans for Bank of Scotland as it moves closer to becoming the Lloyds Banking Group’s high street face north of the Border.
The forced sale of 632 Lloyds branches across the UK under European Commission orders will include 185 outlets in Scotland that will be rebranded as TSB and floated as a standalone business after the Cooperative Group pulled out of talks to buy them.
Bulloch ran the UK-wide general insurance business and was managing director of branch banking for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and NatWest, and chief executive of Tesco Personal Finance. His attempts to rebuild the BoS’s customer focus follows a similar move by RBS, which is investing in technology. “In 80 of our branches there were no managers,” he said. “We are putting 80 bank managers back. We want to make sure the branch supports the customer. We want them to be visible in the banking halls and to be known in their communities. Customers like to meet and know the manager.”
He acknowledged that more customers want to use digital services and that there would be a move towards automation and mobile applications. The bank is installing 50 deposit machines in branches. But he said 60 per cent of his three million customers use the branches each year, which helps to underpin the network.
More than 100 of the 294 total have been refurbished over the past 18 months, but Bulloch said there was nothing sacrosant about them. “Our customers at this time continue to show a need for branches, though I can see a situation where branch footprints have changed dramatically in terms of scale and size. We are seeing a slow decline in those using the banking halls, but still half of customers use them.”
The bank is investing heavily to simplify its activities and to reduce complaints. It is extending opening hours in a number of branches. He said 29 will open on Thursday evenings, something the bank last did in the 1970s.
He also revealed the bank had spent a lot of time working out how the restructuring will affect 250,000 Lloyds customers whose branch is not in Scotland nor among those being sold, but who still want to use services in Scotland.
Integration between Lloyds and BoS should enable them to use BoS branches from the autumn. Branches of mortgage lender Cheltenham & Gloucester will also go to TSB, but customers will continue to have access to telephone services.