By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
MORE double-digit job losses are likely at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) after it last night announced the closure of four branches, including a pull-out from Andros and Long Island.
The move, which comes as the Canadian-owned bank pushes its clients to online and mobile banking, will result in the closure of its Andros Town and Gray’s locations on March 30 and April 13, respectively.
And two Nassau locations - Robinson Road and John F Kennedy drive - will be merged and consolidated with RBC’s existing Carmichael Road locations on March 16 and March 23, respectively.
RBC, in a statement, did not specify the resulting number of job losses, although a spokesperson confirmed to Tribune Business that lay-offs will occur. This newspaper’s e-mailed questions regarding the number of redundancies and other related issues were not returned before press time.
However, Nathaniel Beneby, RBC’s managing director for the northern Caribbean, including the Bahamas, said: “We are providing strong support to assist affected employees through this transition...... We will work with all impacted employees to find ways in which we can support their careers going forward, whether within RBC or elsewhere.
“Like all businesses, we constantly evaluate our operations to ensure we continue to match our services with the needs of our customers, and we are fully committed to ensuring smooth, uninterrupted service to our customers, continuing to meet our clients’ expectations and provide more convenient and better service to our clients while creating greater efficiencies within our operations.”
RBC’s move comes as little surprise, given that all Bahamas-based commercial banks are constantly seeking to cut costs and achieve efficiencies in a low-growth environment characterised by low profits, high unemployment and a significant non-performing loan overhang.
However, it less than two months after Mr Beneby, in unveiling RBC’s transition to a digital banking model, said the move was “not about downsizing”.
He added that it was “not about shrinking our business or services”, and 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.”
Many observers are likely to view Mr Beneby’s comments with increased scepticism following yesterday’s move, which comes at a time when RBC has eliminated several key in-branch services.
RBC stopped cashing cheques, accepting bill payments, taking deposits or buying and selling foreign currency for non-customers on January 2. It now only cashes government cheques and pension cheques for non-clients
Deposits and transfers to other RBC clients’ accounts are also no longer accepted over-the-counter in branches, other than those for FINCO clients. The bank also ceased its FasDeposit service on January 15, while wire transfers will not be processed over-the-counter - and standing orders for credit cards discontinued - from January 31, 2018.
RBC yesterday touted the near-25,000 active users of its mobile banking app, and Mr Beneby was quoted thus: “These efforts are designed to bring us closer to our clients by giving them the ability to bank with us more easily through an array of physical and digital channel options, including point of sale, a strong mobile mortgage and sales force, the RBC Mobile App, Digital Banking, ATMs and our stores.”
The bank, though, hinted at more branch closures and consolidations to come as its business model and transition to digital banking evolves. Andros and Long Island will be especially hard-hit by the closures, which drastically reduce and eliminate traditional banking options on those islands, and leave a void that traditional money transmission providers such as Western Union, and newer players like the web shops and e-payment firms, are seeking to fill.
Mr Beneby, in December 2017, said RBC’s digital drive would reduce the long queues and wait times experienced in many RBC branches as a result of network consolidation and mergers with FINCO branches, plus 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.