CCBS’s 2007 analysis of mobile banking in England & Wales concluded that, unlike the north of Scotland where mobile routes are understood to break even, the RBS/NatWest mobile activities south of the border are essentially a loss making PR exercise. Geographical and banking market conditions are very different and previous mobile activities in England by HSBC and NatWest proved unviable and were finally withdrawn in 2005 after 40 and 15 years respectively.
A brief update of the previous report follows:
Under the NatWest brand RBS operates 4 routes: Devon, Cornwall, South Wales and Cumbria, introduced between 2005 and 2007. These are frequently featured in the bank’s TV and other advertising as an example of service to customers but press and observation reports suggest an average of 7 customers per visit has not increased and little or no profitable business has been gained from competitors. The service cannot be used by customers of other banks.
The Scottish routes (RBS operate 15 and Bank of Scotland 8) remain, with minor variations. There are examples of mobile visits being used to replace closed branches in order to comply with the letter of the bank’s pledge to remain open for business in communities where it is the last bank.
South of the border, RBS has withdrawn its only two mobile banking services: North Wales and Yorkshire which were introduced in 2007, citing lack of, and declining, use. From the beginning, as identified in CCBS’s earlier report, it was obvious that these could never be justified, even on PR terms for the RBS brand.
This venture by RBS Group in England & Wales continues to look like a political/PR exercise rather than a serious attempt to find a sustainable solution to the problems of banking access which have increased since 2007 with escalating branch closures particularly in ‘last bank in town’ situations. With over 700 communities in England & Wales having lost all their banks, the less than 50 unbanked communities served by the remaining NatWest branded mobiles is of little consequence.
CCBS continues to believe that the answer lies in the flexible formats of neutral shared branching (including some modest mobile sharing) and seeks government support and industry co-operation to achieve meaningful pilots.