By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
ROYAL Bank of Canada (RBC) says its move to become a Bahamas and Caribbean leader through digital conversion is “not about downsizing”.
Nathaniel Beneby, RBC’s managing director for the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos, denied that the drive to push consumers towards mobile and Internet banking would result in further terminations, arguing: “This is not about shrinking our business or services.”
Many social media postings over the weekend speculated that RBC’s digital switch was chiefly a cost-cutting measure that would allow the bank to lay-off staff and close more branches, with some even suggesting it was a sign the bank intends to pull-out of the Bahamas. Mr Beneby, though, said RBC saw the move as growth enhancing, as it would provide clients with extra “access, convenience and security” by enabling them to conduct regular banking transactions from their homes or workplaces without needing to visit branches.
Pointing out that this would reduce the long queues and wait times experienced in many RBC branches, as a result of network consolidation and mergers with FINCO branches, Mr Beneby said the digital initiative would enhance the client experience and “put them at the centre of everything we do”.
He added that the elimination of numerous manual, in-branch transactions would free-up RBC staff to better interact with clients and understand their needs, as well as enabling them to focus more on selling products and services.
Many Bahamians swiftly equated a reduction in in-branch transactions with further downsizing, but Mr Beneby said: “These changes are not about downsizing. These changes are about enhancing the client experience, and creating more access, convenience and security.
“RBC has been in the Bahamas for 109 years. These change is not about reducing or shrinking our business or services. This is more about growth. RBC continues to be fully committed to the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
“We enjoy long-standing relationships. We have clients with over 70 years of service with RBC. These changes, and all the changes we are making, we want the Bahamian community to understand this is not about shrinking our business but it’s about growth.”
Some sceptics are likely to be unconvinced, and Mr Beneby conceded that banks did not necessarily need a physical presence to conduct financial services business. He also acknowledged that the increased use of technology to improve productivity and efficiency could lead to jobs becoming redundant.
“As companies leverage technology, it affords the opportunity for greater efficiency, and quite naturally the number of persons you need need, labour, tends to reduce as a result of leveraging technology,” he said.
“But I repeat: This exercise is not about that. It’s about enhancing the client experience. This is about transforming our business to better service our clients, efficiently and effectively, through access and convenience.
“Physical stores are always part of a holistic review and assessment. One does not have to be in a physical bank to provide or deliver banking services, and less physical presence does not mean less people. You need an expanded sales force, more people to grow your business. It’s about keeping our clients at the centre of our business; everything we do.”
Mr Beneby said around 25-33 per cent of RBC’s client base, some 25,000 clients, were now using RBC’s Bahamas mobile banking app some 13 months out from its November 2016 launch.
Disclosing that RBC’s mobile banking users had more than doubled, from 11,000 to 25,000, since its launch, Mr Beneby said this growth rate combined with the bank’s digital push meant he “fully expected” to be at 50,000 “very soon”.
Kevin Darling, RBC’s head of business banking for the northern Caribbean, added: “One of the things we’re very proud of is this app... is better than what we what we have in Canada, and my Canadian colleagues are anxious to get it on their system.
“Every two weeks it’s updated, feature are added, and there’s fine tuning. This is something we will continue to develop. It will the future of this industry, not just RBC.”
Mr Beneby said the Bahamas and northern Caribbean were leading RBC’s digital drive in the wider region, with the bank believing it was now the local market leader in embracing technology.
“We are very proud of that; to be leading the transformation to digital and mobile,” he added. “Undoubtedly the rest will follow. That’s where the world is going.”
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), one of the UK’s largest banks, and which is 71 per cent owned by the British taxpayer, last week unveiled a similar strategy with the announcement it will close one-quarter or 259 of its 1,0003 branches, together with the loss of 680 jobs, as a result of its clients switching to electronic banking channels.
RBC, meanwhile, believes the switch to digital banking will save business clients significant sums from not having to deal with multiple cheque and manual transactions.
Its conversion also fits with the Central Bank’s drive to reduce reliance on cash-based financial transactions, and for electronic banking services to take the place of physical branches on Family Islands.
Mr Beneby said RBC would continue to cash government, pension and social security cheques at its branches for non-clients, given how many persons depended on them. He added that the bank was working with government to develop “alternative options” for such payments.