The personal touch has been withdrawn from banking

The RBS branch in Grangemouth town centre
The RBS branch in Grangemouth town centre

News of the demise of yet more banks hit the community hard, but the closures in Grangemouth’s La Porte Precinct, Stenhhousemuir Main Street and Denny’s Glasgow Road were not unexpected.

Those branches will be gone for good in October and in Grangemouth the Clydesdale Bank will also be closing down its La Porte Precinct branch on April 27, citing the same basic reasons as RBS – changing times and the rapid rise of phone and online banking.

An RBS spokesperson said: “Our world is changing rapidly, with people relying more and more on technology in all aspects of their life. Shopping and booking a holiday online has become the norm for many – banking is no different and many of our customers are looking for and using more convenient ways to bank.

“As a result of this change, since 2011 we have seen the number of transactions in the Grangemouth branch decline by 31 per cent. These customers are actively choosing to bank in different ways, with 56 per cent of customers choosing to use our digital banking.

“The number of transactions in the Stenhousemuir branch declined by 26 per cent. These customers are actively choosing to bank in different ways, with 63 per cent of customers choosing to use our digital banking options. We are following the Access to Banking protocol and we have made the decision after careful consideration of a wide range of factors, including regular branch usage and the alternative ways our customers can bank with us.

“We provide a range of alternative ways to bank, tailored to the needs of our customers and reflective of the way they live their lives.”

According to RBS there are 20 free to use ATMs within a mile of the Grangemouth branch and 13 within a mile of the Stenhousemuir premises. The nearest branch for both locations is the RBS bank in Newmarket Street, Falkirk.

Bill Ramage, who just celebrated his half century as a member of Grangemouth Rotary Club, retired as a bank manager over 30 years ago.

When he was in charge of Grangemouth Savings Bank, personal service and face to face interaction were not yet outdated and were an integral part of the job.

Bill said: “The personal touch is gone from banking now – you are just a number and a name. When I was a bank manager a customer said they could not make it in because they had the flu, so we went to see them.

“It’s a shame really. It’s not convenient for people to take their cars up to Falkirk to the remaining local RBS branch, get parked and go to the bank.

“I heard the office I opened in Bridge of Allan in 1949 will be closing next week.”

To see how much banking has changed over the years we need only look at the history of RBS itself.

The bank was chartered in 1727 with Archibald Campbell appointed its first governor.

On May 31, 1728, the Royal Bank of Scotland invented the overdraft – later considered an innovation in modern banking – to allow William Hogg, a merchant in the High Street of Edinburgh, access to £1000 credit.

By 1783 the bank started to expand out of Edinburgh, opening a branch in Glasgow and further branches were opened in Dundee, Rothesay, Dalkeith, Greenock, Port Glasgow and Leith.

Throughout the 19th century the bank pursued mergers with other Scottish banks – the assets and liabilities of the Western Bank were acquired following its collapse in 1857 and the Dundee Banking Company was acquired in 1864.

By 1910 the Royal Bank of Scotland had 158 branches and around 900 staff.

Back in 2010 RBS promised not to close bank branches if they were the last in town.

Four years later it closed 44 branches that were the last in town, stating branch transactions had fallen by 30 per cent over a four year period.

Back to the present day and Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said, while he understood the RBS decision, he was still disappointed the branches could not remain open for people who have come to rely on the face to face service the banks have provided over the years.

Mr MacDonald said: “This announcement is deeply regrettable and will clearly have an impact on customer. Although unfortunate, it is not difficult to understand the reasons why we are seeing an increase in these closures.

“The impact of telephone and online banking is clear to see, with more and more customers preferring to do their banking using these methods. In turn, the move to an online 24/7 service is having an impact on the viability of local branches.

“Royal Bank of Scotland will have to ensure their customers are given every opportunity to seek to move their accounts, should they chose to do so, but also to reach out to those customers unable to access online banking in order to meet their concerns and provide an alternative service in the time between now and these closures.

“I am pleased to hear the bank is communicating with their customers in a very proactive way and are deploying a team of experts across their network to give regular customers the opportunity to experience online banking and allow time to decide upon the correct option to suit their own needs when it comes to banking, before the branches close in October.”

Falkirk MP John McNally added: “I am deeply disappointed that RBS has taken the decision to close these branches in Denny and Stenhousemuir. Constituents rely on and need their bank as they organise their day-to-day finances.

“It makes such a difference having a member of banking staff available to discuss things with. While it’s true that many people use online banking these days, there are others, especially more elderly residents, who do not and who much prefer to talk to a human being.

“Losing a bank is a blow to any high street.”

The days of the friendly neighbourhood bank manager like Bill Ramage are now long gone and they will not be coming back as this digital age ploughs on regardless.

It seems the bigger the banking organisations become the more problems they encounter and the initial purpose of the bank to look after the money of the customers has now taken a back seat to making profits.

As Bill himself said: “Bring back the old days.”