Brand audit: RBS

A year ago, the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group unveiled its ambition of being the most trusted bank by 2020. Although some progress is evident, there is still a long way to go.

While presenting the company’s latest results last month, RBS CEO Ross McEwan said that some “tangible progress” is starting to show on the back of the commitments the NatWest and RBS brand owner made a year ago to change its consumer perceptions by better serving customers.

The measures introduced included an end to so-called “sweetener deals”, incentives made to prospective customers not offered to existing customers, as well as a push for redesigned branches to include WiFi and iPads to allow customers to do online banking in-store.

The new plan was part of a long-term journey for the company to realign its business following a taxpayer bailout in 2008, having since been significantly owned by the UK government.

McEwan claimed the company has delivered against each commitment it made last year, stating that its Net Promoter Scores (NPS), the company’s lead customer metric based on how likely consumers are to recommend the bank to a friend, are showing improvements.

According to the company, The Royal Bank of Scotland, which dropped its RBS branding last year, saw a score for its personal banking business of -13 at the end of 2014, up from -16 in 2013. It also saw a rise to -23 from -38 in its business banking division.

However, the score for NatWest only rose by one point to six from five in personal banking and remained flat at -11 for business banking.

Last year, RBS posted its biggest annual loss since being rescued by the UK government during the financial crisis, something that may have hindered further improvement in consumer perceptions of its banks.

“The conduct issues of last year had an effect on how our personal customers rate us, especially under the Royal Bank of Scotland brand,” McEwan said. “But you’re starting to see the lifts as customers recognise that we are doing a better job for them.

“Our business banking is seeing some lift and, in commercial, we have the leading positions here. What we need to do is improve our service on lending to get them even better.”

BrandIndex scores from YouGov as of 10 March showed that although the overall Index score for Royal Bank of Scotland had improved by 9.2 points year on year, the brand still came in at 27th on the list of banks, the same position as a year ago.

Its reputation ranking has also stayed the same, though its score has also risen by 14.9.

Meanwhile, the Index score for NatWest was up 12 ranks to the eighth spot on the list year on year, with its reputation up nine ranks to number seven.

Looking to reliable service to up Net Promoter Scores

Moving forward, the bank is targeting a rise in score in every UK customer franchise by offering customers a “more resilient and reliable service”, though McEwan said it will be a “long road for steady improvement”.

In line with the plans it laid out last year, RBS is looking to technology to make the bank, and its products, simpler for customers by focusing on what it calls “points of presence”.

It introduced its “mirror bank” this year which allows customers to access their services even if the bank is experiencing system difficulties, and will also add over 1500 self-service points by the end of 2015.

“Over time, we will serve customers better, and we will do it more cheaply,” McEwan said. “In doing that, those results then fall to the bottom line which means a much better result for our shareholders.”

In its latest results, RBS reported a £3.5bn attributable loss for 2014. However, McEwan said the company has already exceeded the 11% capital target it set for the end of 2015, and has taken out £1.1bn in costs, more than its goal.

While its UK business saw profits of £1.45bn, up 77% compared to 2013, McEwan still doesn’t believe customer service is where it needs to be.

“In reality, I don’t think any UK bank does a really good job for customers,” he said. “And I think our willingness to openly publish the stats that we have in our accounts this year just show how serious we are to this commitment.”