Taking the Bank out of Bank Holiday: bonus or just gross?

So, RBS and its Natwest subsidiary are opening their doors to the public again this bank holiday Monday. With the advance in technology of mobile banking, one might ask whether this is at all necessary.

From the bank’s perspective, it could well be more than a necessity; it could be imperative.

A desperate attempt to claw back the £446M Q1 2015 RBS losses? Or is the bank trying to fund the £190M it’s had to set aside for investment advice redress?

Or is it headline seeking, RBS/Natwest breaking the taboo of 144 years of banks taking public days as holiday just to get a few punters through their door?

What’s going on?

RBS/Natwest broke tradition when they opened for this year’s May Day bank holiday, the one day in the year set aside to celebrate the working class.

And now they’re doing it again, just three weeks later, for the Spring bank holiday. All told, there’ll be sixty-five of the banks’ busiest branches open this coming Monday.

In Scotland, opening hours are between 9am – 3pm. In England and Wales (just Cardiff, Queen Street in the whole of Wales), opening hours will be between 11am-4pm.

The May Day venture was, apparently, a success. According to Jane Howard, MD branch and private banking for the two banks, the trial elicited a reaction from their “customers and staff [that] was overwhelmingly positive.”

Okay. Maybe there was the odd member of Joe and Joanna Public who found having the bank open a boon. It’s these people, the ones with lives too busy to make it into branch the rest of the year, at whom Jane Howard says the initiative is targeted.

In retrospect, it’s perhaps not such a bad idea. Trying to find branch opening times on the Natwest site for any other day of the year is nigh on impossible.

In addition, of all the ‘ways to bank’ with Natwest, “in branch” is the last of all the possible options the website proffers.

And when you do get to the in-branch page, there’s chapter and verse about in-branch ATMs and links to the mobile branch. But there’s precious little there about the services you can expect from a human in an actual Natwest branch.

But you’d have to question whether the staff’s reaction was so emphatic to working on May Day, wouldn’t you?

Maybe if they were being paid double-time with a day off in lieu, you’d get it. Or perhaps earning treble commission? Then, yes; the staff, as anyone, would have been thrilled at going into work on a Bank Holiday.

If staff were so overjoyed at working and overtime was the reason, would the taxpayer have sanctioned that sort of overtime? Remember, the bank is 80% owned by the state after its £45bn bailout in 2008.

Consider the trend-shift in the way people actually do their banking over the last five years, too.

According to Natwest’s own figures, in-branch transactions are down over a third since 2010. Mobile and online? Up 300% over the same period.

Do we need more branch opening hours?

At Whit’s end

When you take into account that Natwest offers extended opening hours for mortgages all year as a matter of course, the question of ‘why’ they’re opening on Bank Holidays just gets louder and more poignant.

As well as extra mortgage advisors on hand this Monday (as if they didn’t have those bases covered), business managers will be in-branch, too.

That’s right. Because small business owners who work 12 hours a day six days a week are really going to be getting out of bed early to stand in a queue at Natwest on Whit bank holiday Monday. 😉

Maybe RBS/Natwest will have the same success this time as they did last. But opening on bank holidays in the current climate? It does seem rather like a “mayday, mayday” distress call than a useful addition to the calendar, doesn’t it?

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