Summary: Presenter: Start Time: Duration: Winifred Robinson: Les Matheson, Chief Executive of personal and business banking at RBS and NatWest:

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1 Summary: Interview with Les Matheson, Chief Executive of Personal and Business Banking at RBS and NatWest. Presenter: Winifred Robinson Start Time: 12:18:15 Duration: 11 minutes Ministers have written to the British Banking Association saying they are worried that branch closures will leave thousands of people without a local branch. Of four hundred and seventy seven branches that closed last year, forty four of them were the last bank in town. That is according to figures from the Campaign for Community Banking Services. Lloyds which also owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland has said it is aiming to close two hundred branches over the next three years. Barclays told us they are aiming to close at least one hundred and twenty eight branches this year. RBS and NatWest is closing around one hundred. Santander twenty two and TSB fourteen. Les Matheson is the Chief Executive of Personal and Business Banking at RBS and NatWest and I asked him this morning why branches are being closed. Les Matheson, Chief Executive of personal and business banking at RBS and NatWest: It is really because customers are just not using the branches as much as they have. As we look at the different branches that we have we have had some as low as six people are regularly going in to the branch. What we have found is just there is an incredible increase in how people are using online but in particular mobile and so what we are doing is we are investing a lot in the ways in which customers are telling us that they want to bank with us. Well you say that you are doing what customers want you to do but there are an estimated sixty three thousand people who have no access at all to online and a lot of those are older people. The fear is that those people will end up having to travel a long way for banking and for some people that will mean no realistic service at all. Well I understand that concern but I am happy to say it won t mean no service at all because what we are doing is a number of things to help. So the firs thing is we do have an arrangement with the Post Office which you probably know have lots and lots of branches. I think they have over eleven thousand across the UK. So we have developed a relationship with them where our customers can go in and make deposits and also withdrawals. So that people will go along to the local Post Office and actually we think that that is a good thing for the local community because we are obviously paying the Post Office for that service. The other thing that we are doing on many places, we are extending our mobile service so that is a little mobile bank that can go around to many different local communities and stop off very close to wherever it is that people happen to live. So if you actually look at the number of access points that a customer has there are far far more today than would have been the case say five years ago.

2 You have come in for a lot of criticism for closing one branch in particular. That is the NatWest bank in a place called Knott End-on-Sea in Lancashire because that very branch featured in an ad you made in 2011 promising not to close the last bank in town. How can you justify that? Look I think what has happened is things have just moved on. I think that customers are telling us they actually want to use mobile, they want to use online, they want to use different ways of accessing the bank and we have to move with the times. I think in those sorts of cases what we have done is we have, sometimes we have left the ATM for example if that is something that is important. Sometimes what we have done is we have arranged and I think in this case we have arranged for a mobile bank to go along and be there at a particular time. Also there will be access at the Post Office. Les Matheson from RBS and NatWest and we will be playing more of that interview with him later on in the programme. Now price promotions can make it hard to work out whether an offer really is a good deal or not. And that applies to price promotions in banks as well as supermarkets according to the man in charge of high street banking at RBS and NatWest. Promotional pricing in banking includes introductory bonus rates on savings accounts and zero per cent for limited periods on credit cards. Les Matheson is the Chief Executive of Personal and Business Banking at RBS and NatWest, and I spoke to him about that this morning. Put simply we want to be the bank that helps you out, and not the bank that catches you out. We think that a lot of customers find finance quite difficult and teaser rates generally are not that helpful for customers. What we find is that people find them difficult to understand, difficult to compare and they often end up rolling off their teaser rate onto another rate which is far far lower. And then they have to go through the hassle of actually changing accounts sometimes they forget. So we just don t think that s the right way to be running a bank. Well that s teaser rates for savings, you ve also done it with nought per cent rates an introduction rate on credit cards, you ve done away with them as well? Yes we certainly have. Well the first thing is, it isn t actually zero per cent. So although it says it is zero percent, very often you have to pay a fee for making that transfer. So its actually misleading to say that it is zero per cent. The other thing is as you can imagine having zero percent permanently is not a viable commercial proposition for a bank. So, what it means is the bank is relying on the customer rolling off their zero per cent credit time period and going onto a rate that can be eighteen, twenty and twenty five or more per cent. We don t think that is a very good way for people to manage their finances. So we ve actually stopped doing that.

3 You have claimed your own newer credit cards have always low rates of interest. They are not that low when you take in into account the fact that you have to pay a fee to have the card. So for example 24 for one of your cards takes its interest rates up to about twelve per cent a year when you add the fee. Look that s true, but I guess I don t think that twelve per cent is a very high rate when you compare it to other rates in the market place. You know the average rate for a credit card I think is about eighteen per cent so it s significantly less than that. I think also a fee of 24 amounts to 2 a month. So 2 a month is about the price of a cup of coffee, per month, so that doesn t seem like a lot to me. Well some people think that these teaser rates are a good thing, and Dan Hyde is one of those people, he is consumer affairs editor at the Telegraph, here he is. Dan Hyde, Consumer Affairs Editor, the Telegraph: The teaser in itself wasn t the problem, the problem was that somebody forgot to switch although they weren t aware that the rate had dropped. Banning the bonus element of it will just mean that banks can t afford to offer as high a rate and I can t see that that s a particularly positive outcome for customers who want to stay active and engaged with their finances. What about nought per cent introductory offers on credit cards? Dan Hyde: Like it or not, we ve kind of got into a situation of people moving their debts around between different accounts in order to manage their finances. For some people it s actually a vital tool, the problem we have now is that there are a lot of people who now rely on that system. So we start taking away these interest free periods on credit cards, suddenly they can t move their debt around, they can t manage their finances as well. I think perhaps long term that would be a positive move, but there s much less debate over the rights and wrongs of getting people into debt than there is about making sure that people get the best from their savings accounts. It does feel more like a marketing exercise from the banks than something that is particularly in the interest of consumers. That s Dan Hyde, Les Matheson what do you say to that? It s a marketing idea its nothing really for the good of consumers. Well I certainly disagree with that proposition. What I do agree with is the point it s the right thing over the longer term. I think what it relies on is people being aware of what all the different rates are and switching from one to another. With credit cards is that? Exactly. And I think you know what unfortunately can happen is people start off with a zero per cent and because it s not attracting any interest they spend more than they should, when they get to the end of the interest free period they find that they cant actually transfer to another zero percent balance transfer. Infact we estimate that one

4 in two customers who try and transfer don t actually get the zero percent offer. They actually have to pay a certain percentage. Also I think just by definition you cannot have the whole market sitting on zero percent. That isn t a commercial proposition for the banks. So rather than people having to continually switch, let s just give them a fair everyday rate. Now the regulator the FCA is looking at promotional rates for savings and says it won t be banning them. It wants clearer information about the interest rates, reminders two weeks before a promotional period ends to give people time to switch. Do think that s a mistake then? Look I think that s a very good start but I don t think it goes far enough. So I absolutely think that pricing changes need to be made clear to customers and we have been doing that for many years, but I would go further than that. I think what you need to do is take into account the particular product that customers are buying so if you take an instant access savings account. Well a customer wants to have access to that at any point in time so to my mind it doesn t make sense to have a teaser rate for six months at one per cent interest rate, and then the interest goes to point one after a year. The customer wants access to their savings at any time, so the rate should be the same. We ve actually moved all of our savings customers off of point one rates up to point five. Now I know that that doesn t sound very high, it isn t very high but it s a lot higher than point one or point zero one that many people who have been on promotional rates, then roll off onto. We are talking today about financial products that don t work in customers best interests. And the Ombudsman is receiving a thousand complaints a week at the moment about what are called packaged accounts, you know the accounts that were sold to people with for example free in inverted commas, insurance that in fact many of them weren t even eligible to claim on. How much has RBS set aside for compensation where those accounts have been mis-sold? I don t think we ve set out in our accounts how much has been set aside. It is certainly something that we have done. I think packaged accounts, so long as you can use them are excellent products. What you need to make sure you do and what our, my colleagues in the branch, on the phone and online do, is make sure the customers that they are speaking to really need the benefits that the packaged accounts can give you. Isn t the point that it is incumbent on your staff, not people buying accounts, to make sure that what is sold to people, works for people? And the problem was that your staff got commission for selling those products and didn t take the care they should have done, are they still getting commission today? No they are not. So today our staff get paid an incentive based upon levels of customer satisfaction. So you don t get individual incentives but if you take the whole of a branch lets say, if customers are telling us they think they are getting a great service from a particular branch, then the branch as a whole will get a small amount, one or two thousand pounds, a year.

5 That was Les Matheson the Chief Executive of Personal and Business Banking at RBS and NatWest, he was speaking to me earlier this morning. Ends

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