Santander keeps branch network 'under review' after profits slump amid pandemic

Santander has hinted at further possible branch closures and job cuts as the bank keeps a lid on costs.

Santander said the branch network was always under review, but stressed there were no immediate plans or targets for closures. Picture: John Stillwell/PA
Santander said the branch network was always under review, but stressed there were no immediate plans or targets for closures. Picture: John Stillwell/PA

UK chief executive Nathan Bostock said the Spanish-owned group would continue to review its 564-strong UK branch network as the pandemic accelerates the shift towards online banking.

He added that moves to trim costs under an ongoing overhaul could mean further job cuts among its 21,900-strong workforce.

He said: “Our transformation programme continues… we could see clearly as a result of that a change in the number of our overall headcount.”

Bostock said the branch network was “always under review”, but stressed there were no immediate plans or targets for closures.

“Should we make any decisions, we would always do it in a way that reflects guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority,” he added.

The chief executive’s comments came as the group posted a 44 per cent decline in UK pre-tax profits to £552 million for 2020 after booking a £448m charge for loan losses due to the pandemic. The coronavirus provisions sent total credit impairment losses leaping to £645m for the year.

On an underlying basis, full-year profits were down 45 per cent to £710m.

The group set aside another £98m for expected loan losses in its fourth quarter, but saw underlying profits rise 4 per cent quarter on quarter to £247m in the final three months of the year.

It marks a more resilient performance for the UK business than its Spanish parent, Banco Santander, which slumped to its first ever annual loss in 2020.

The wider group posted a net loss of €8.77 billion (£7.7bn) after hefty writedowns and restructuring costs taken in the fourth quarter.

Bostock added: “Our customers, colleagues and communities have faced an incredibly challenging year, and our unwavering focus has been on providing vital support when it was needed.

“Thanks to the extraordinary hard work and commitment of my colleagues, we have been able to continue providing essential banking services throughout the pandemic, alongside tailored help to customers who are facing challenges.

“Although Covid-19 materially impacted our results, the decisive actions we have taken have helped to deliver a very resilient performance despite the difficult environment.

“With vaccines being rolled out at pace and the ratification of the Brexit trade agreement, we are well positioned to support the UK’s economic recovery over the coming years and deliver on our purpose to help people and businesses prosper.”

The banking sector reporting season is now in full flow. Santander’s results came just a day after Clydesdale Bank owner Virgin Money said cautious customers were avoiding taking out personal loans and instead turning to depositing their cash amid the pandemic.

The Glasgow-headquartered group, which also owns the Yorkshire Bank and is undertaking a major rebranding of both names, also added a further charge of £49m to the cost of compensation over the PPI scandal following a higher level of internal reviews into complaints leading to payouts.

Other big banks including Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland owner Lloyds Banking Group are also due to update investors.

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