Leader comment: Branch closures raise questions about how much banks have changed

In the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008, banks put a great deal of effort into improving their reputations.

An industry-wide “makeover” saw a degree of humility - or, at least, the appearance of such - return after years of masters-of-the-universe recklessness. But whether banks which had acted with such hubris truly had learned any lessons was always open to question. Without a genuine cultural change, promises of higher standards would never be more than PR spin.

Waves of bank closures suggest the new “human” face presented by the industry post-2008 may be superficial rather than substantial. Organisations such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, which tops the list of banks proposing to shut branches in Scotland with 62 facing the axe, seem to care little about the impact on staff - and customers - of these closures.

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We believe there is a strong case for RBS and others to consider not only the financial but the social implications of their actions. Charities, pensioners’ groups, and a number of local community organisations in areas where branches are earmarked for closure have warned of devastating consequences. According to submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s economy committee, growing numbers of people face difficulties getting cash or accessing banking services which are often many miles from their homes. For some, this hampers their ability to run businesses in parts of Scotland.

There are warnings, too, about the impact on tourism. Visitors to Scotland - seduced by expensive advertising campaigns - are surely entitled to expect that banks won’t make it more difficult for them to access - and spend - their cash while they are here.

But it is not all about the bottom lines. Elderly people who may struggle with the latest technology are likely to be among the worst affected. And for them, the issue is about more than convenience, with campaigners warning the closures will leave increasing numbers of Scots for whom a visit to the bank represents part of a long standing routine more socially isolated.

Of course, banks are in the business of making money but we feel - especially after events of recent years - there has to be more to their decision making than profit. A banking industry which put the needs of customers first and thought through the ethics of every decision would, we dare say, continue to flourish.