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NatWest customer charter branded a "joke"

19th Aug 2010
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Disgruntled consumers have branded Natwest’s customer charter as a "joke" and accused the bank of simply using it as a smokescreen to hide bad news.

The bank’s charter, launched only a few months ago to improve its image with customers, pledges to extend opening hours at its busiest branches and to maintain services where it is the only bank left in the community.

But French, a former Natwest area manager and current head of Campaign for Community Banking, claimed that, in reality, the bank was inconveniencing thousands of customers by closing branches and cutting opening hours instead.

"Closing branches is hardly helpful banking. The customer charter is a farce as far as many customers are concerned," he told the Thisismoney website.

Moreover, he added that it was "outrageous" the bank was spending millions in promoting a charter that could not be measured in objective terms.

Mick Bates, a livestock farmer in Montgomeryshire who is also a Liberal Democrat member of the National Assembly for Wales, likewise called the charter a "joke". His local branch in Llanfair Caereinion and two others in Montgomeryshire are seeing their opening hours being cut despite offering “excellent” service to the local community.

"How can its actions here be described as helpful banking?" he said. "No doubt the next step will be for the bank to close our branches altogether. The bank is also urging customers to sign up to online banking, but that’s hardly helpful. A reliable internet service is not a reality in many rural areas in Mid Wales."

As a result, Bates has set up an action group comprising local councillors and businessmen to fight the reduced opening hours in his area and has won the support of a consumer rights group. Consumer Focus has written to Natwest warning that closures could increase the number of people who become ‘unbanked’ and so pay more for goods and services.

Natwest has said that it will review the opening hours of the Montgomeryshire branches at the end of the year and increase them if there is demand.

A spokesperson added: "We are committed to our charter. We recognise branches are an important part of our overall service, which is why we’re the only bank pledging to stay open for business where we are the last bank in town."

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