Royal Bank of Scotland, the majority state-owned banking
giant among the most high-profile global casualties of the economic
crisis, has kicked off an in-branch financial advice service in the
UK available to everyone. It is all part of the group’s drive to
‘back-to-basics’ banking, writes Douglas Blakey.
Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the ailing former
global banking giant (see RBS limps towards full state control,
UK launches new bail out), has announced its third socially
responsible initiative in less than two months, as it faces up to
an uncertain future under majority state control.
Following hot on the heels of a freeze of overdraft charges for
small businesses announced in November and a December undertaking
that mortgage customers will be given six months’ breathing space
before repossession proceedings are instigated, the bank has
launched a major impartial financial advice initiative.
According to RBS, the financial advice service, which debuted on
11 December in partnership with charity Consumer Credit Counselling
Service (CCCS), is the first of its type to be offered in the UK
and seeks to build on the bank’s 15-year-old programme of working
with UK schools to provide financial education.The scheme involves
1,100 NatWest and RBS branded branches offering impartial financial
guidance to everyone, including customers of other banks and people
without bank accounts, with a complete focus on what the bank terms
“helpful guidance” and not in any way linked to endorsing or
The participating branches are visited by more than 2 million
customers a week, following a successful trial in the north of
England in May 2008 and a pilot in five branches in London during
the fourth quarter of last year.
The in-branch advice is being provided by more than 1,000 RBS
customer service officers, selected by the bank based on their
service oriented skills and trained by financial advice experts
“MoneySense Advisers will dedicate at least one full day a week,
but are flexible depending on the branch and needs of the local
community. If the adviser finds, for example, that most people are
able to come in on a Saturday to have a MoneySense appointment then
they will adjust their availability to suit these needs,” the
bank’s head of community investment, Stephen Moir, told
RBI in an interview.
To flag up the service, RBS kicked off a nationwide television
ad campaign on 12 December, scheduled to run until the end of
“The idea behind the TV campaign is to show that MoneySense is
accessible to everyone, customer or non-customer, at all stages of
life [and] a familiar and comfortable place on the high street
where you can ask questions on money matters. Our advisers have
mainly seen customers who also come in to use other banking
services, but also people who have seen the television advert and
come in to see what the service is all about,” added Moir.
In addition, the bank is running an integrated marketing
campaign promoting the scheme, incorporating display ads in UK
national papers as well as online activity, aimed at attracting
visitors to a dedicated RBS MoneySense website.
And while it is too early to judge the initiative, Moir said the
bank has made a long-term commitment to promote independent
“We’re committed to MoneySense for the long term. The TV
campaign is our latest initiative to tell people about it and how
they can benefit from it but we have a comprehensive communications
plan for the remainder of the year to build on the start the TV
campaign has given us,” he said.
The bank currently has more than 60,000 individuals per month
seeking money advice via the bank’s website with around 110,000
impartial money guides picked up in-branch last year, backing up
the bank’s belief in the need for the MoneySense programme.
The scheme will receive further investment in 2009, with RBS
committed to investing a further £4 million in the plan, in
anticipation of increased demand due to the ongoing economic
downturn. The bank will also expand its MoneySense advisory board
by adding members from education and charity organisations, to
highlight the independent nature of the initiative.
Commenting on branch evidence in the plan’s first month, a bank
spokeswoman told RBI that guidance on basic budgets and
budgeting skills was the most common advice sought, as well as help
with prioritising expenditure and debts.
“On a really practical level for example, many of the people
aged over 65 our staff have talked with did not know about local
authority winter fuel schemes. Our MoneySense advisers have already
made a real help there pointing people in the right direction,” she
Other regular advice given has related to the savings
compensation protection limits, with the bank noting that a large
percentage of individuals speaking with the advisers being unaware
of the £50,000 limit.
According to the chairman of CCCS, Malcolm Hurlston, RBS’ scheme
“There are times in life when everybody needs free, accessible
and impartial financial guidance. Bank branches are the traditional
trusted source and we welcome the opportunity to be part of
RBS/NatWest’s groundbreaking initiative,” he said in a