RBS ‘customer first’ plan to rebuild reputation

ROYAL Bank of Scotland is to appoint a managing director for its Scottish retail business in a move aimed at rebuilding the brand’s damaged image with its customers.

Ross McEwan sees traditional banking changing, putting customers at the top of the agenda. Picture: Getty

The high-profile appointment, which may be announced today, will focus on branch and private banking and is as part of a major overhaul of the “customer-facing “operations by new retail boss Ross McEwan. He also admitted some of the 2,050 branches may close or be relocated to suit the needs of modern banking.

He noted that staff in the retail business had shown “considerable resilience” to an onslaught of criticism from the public over the banking crisis.

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“Staff have taken a lot of pressure from customers who feel let down by what happened, but morale internally has remained good,” McEwan told The Scotsman.

He apologised for recent IT failures that had blighted the bank’s attempts to re-connect with the customer.

“We will be investing a considerable amount of money upgrading our IT systems to ensure we never again see a repeat of what happened last summer.

“Having our systems down for any time is unacceptable and we will spend what it takes to ensure our technology is working 100 per cent of the time.”

A £700 million budget over three years has been set aside to refurbish 500 “tired” branches, invest in technology and install new cash machines in railway stations, shopping malls and other locations in a shift from high streets.

As technology develops, more customers are handling transactions themselves, leaving some branches too big or surplus to requirements, he said.

McEwan, a New Zealander head-hunted for the role last September, believes UK banks are behind those in other countries which have adopted a more customer-friendly approach to handling day-to-day banking. Some have installed coffee bars and soft play areas for children.

He admitted he was not keen on too many “gimmicks”, but he does believe the traditional approach has to change. He wants RBS customers to have the ability to undertake more transactions themselves at “points of presence” - where there is large footfall – or online through new systems such as click-and-chat which provides online help.

“Technology has empowered the customer who is now doing more of his banking via mobile devices,” he said.

The number of transactions done through branches is falling 5 per cent a year across the industry, so branches are being forced to change. Some are developing into advice centres.

“I see the network of branches reducing, but not significantly, and some will be in smaller sites. You do not need the space we have today,” said McEwan. “Much of what we are doing is speeding up the process for the customer.”

He said ‘hole-in-the-wall’ dispensers would become more sophisticated, allowing customers to undertake more transactions such as opening a savings account or putting money in to their account. Mobile devices would have similar facilities.

McEwan wants the new managing director for Scotland to grow the bank’s £10 billion mortgage business.