BUSINESS owners in Helensburgh have hit out at the threat of the town becoming a "banking desert".

The Royal Bank of Scotland has announced it is closing its branch in the town and now rival Bank of Scotland - which is already shutting its branch in Kilcreggan this summer - has announced its Colquhoun Square branch opening hours will be cut from five days to four as of next month.

Both blamed the rise in digital banking - a change they have spent years encouraging.

But Helensburgh independent retailers have said they will either abandon the banks or be forced to travel to Dumbarton to run their businesses.

RBS told the Advertiser that customers could go to the Post Office.

Argyll and Bute Council unanimously voiced their displeasure with RBS, while a petition to save the bank from closure has gained 500 signatures so far.

READ MORE: Helensburgh campaigners to step up fight against RBS closure

Irina Agostinelli, owner of Fabric & Finery, hit out at the impact of the banking cuts. Her shop's business account is with RBS and she paid cash in regularly.

She told the Advertiser: "As a small business cash flow is everything so I liked to be able to just nip over and keep the cash coming in to the account to clear incoming bills smoothly.

"In the future I might have to book in a fortnightly Dumbarton visit, which costs me too much time - and I am time poor as it is. Not good.

"Also, with only paying the cash in twice a month, I need to change all my routines re paying bills, so I am not impressed.

Helensburgh Advertiser:

"First the RBS forced everyone, including the elderly population, to go onto their app whilst they were standing in the bank with four staff strong.

"That always really annoyed me, because I saw the upset faces of those in the population who didn't really like that whole apps business for various reasons.

"Clearly their head office pushed them to force people onto the apps, so they were physically asked to kill their own employment.

READ MORE: Bank of Scotland to cut Helensburgh branch opening hours

"And then RBS has the audacity to say that not enough people used the branch?

"People came into the bank in droves to use their services, and were constantly sent away again to deal with the apps on their own. This is crazy.

"People felt helpless. Sometimes the ladies would take them aside and go through it with them on the clients' phones but I often had the feeling the poor wee ladies or gents were quite desperate and nearly cried."

Irina added: "Why is Dumbarton allowed to keep their branch? Because less people have computers there as the population is poorer? Or because their building there is smaller and costs less?

"It's not a good development at all. As if the banks do not make enough money as it is. It's not always about profit and profit, there must be a social aspect still too, even in 2024."

David King, who recently opened Capercaillie Gifts in Sinclair Street, said he will move his business from RBS.

He said one of the reasons he chose the bank in the first place was for local cash processing and the ability to interact with a major service provider.

"There are plenty of cheaper alternative banks online but I did not want to go down that route," he said.

Helensburgh Advertiser:

"It's something I am being forced into by RBS - or in truth NatWest, who will have little knowledge and potentially do not care about more rural locations in Scotland and elsewhere as the dynamic of rural England is very different.

"I feel 'shop local' is an initiative that is very important in towns such as Helensburgh.

"The RBS decision undermines this concept. Their reasons are simply that online costs them significantly less, but the actual cost of that decision is borne by their customers, both for personal accounts and business ones.

"It also disproportionately affects those who are most vulnerable in our society. We can give our response by moving away from such institutions.

"Being directed to the Post Office, when it is just a part of Morrisons Local and has such a poor public image at the moment, is not a suitable alternative, particularly with the queues that are inevitable at the Post Office, and which will be exacerbated by more people being directed there."

Mr King said his experience with business banking online at RBS was "extremely poor", saying there was no support or anyone to talk to when he was starting it.

"It took nearly seven weeks to activate my online banking, resulting in costs to me," he continued.

"I was directed to a webchat, which failed, then to a WhatsApp chat that I spent four hours on with no result. I was passed to four different people and had to explain the issues all over again.

"I tried to call and spent an hour trying to get through to someone before being cut off."

He added that when he raised concerns with the complaints department, they said there was "nothing wrong" and "sent me a hamper, something I found insulting".

Reduced hours at Bank of Scotland, by contrast, would be a "bit inconvenient", David said, but at least ensure he could still engage with a human being.

The Advertiser put the concerns to RBS, who said counter transactions at the Helensburgh branch decreased by 51 per cent between 2019 and 2024, years which included pandemic restrictions.

They said the nearest Post Office was 0.2 miles away and the closest branch would be eight miles away after the closure on September 25, 2024.

Their response also boasted of investing in "shared solutions" with the Post Office and £2.5million for a new flagship Inverness.

A spokesperson said: “Our customers are using digital banking more than ever before. More than 80 per cent of our active current account holders now use our digital services and over 97 per cent of retail accounts with us are now opened online.

"While we are increasingly engaging our customers digitally, our branch network remains important to us.

"We commit to no further review of our Royal Bank of Scotland branch network until at least 2026.

"We are also significantly investing in refreshing our network – we are investing around £10.5m in our network across Scotland, from 2023-24, as well as continuing to invest in shared solutions like the Post Office and banking hubs.

"Our customers appreciate the speed and convenience of digital banking for everyday transactions, and often, when it comes to making bigger, more complex decisions, they value speaking to our skilled and experienced colleagues.

"Like any business, we strive to meet our customers’ changing needs and expectations and we’ve been responding to the industry-wide shift towards digital services by investing to broaden what customers can do themselves and to offer them greater personalisation.

"Digital banking continues to provide new and inclusive ways of allowing the overwhelming majority of our individual and business customers, including the elderly and vulnerable, to bank with us in ways that they weren’t able to before.

"But we know that a small number of people are not yet comfortable with it, which is why we are proactively reaching out to support them with this transition, having made over 200,000 calls last year.

"We also have experts that they can speak to for support and guidance.”

The RBS branch closure, assuming it goes ahead as planned in September, will follow the closure of three other bank branches in the town in the last decade - the Clydesdale in James Street in 2015, Santander in West Princes Street in 2019, and the TSB in East Princes Street in 2021.

Wendy Hamilton, owner of Grasshopper Toys in West Princes Street and the local representative of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "As a resident and a small business owner in our town, I am concerned by the announcement that a fourth bank will close soon, leaving only one bank to serve the entirety of our population and all local businesses.

"Now the fifth and final bank in the town has announced reduced opening hours.

"We can all see where this is headed; soon our town will have no banking facilities at all, and only one post office to try and mop up the town’s banking needs.

"The closure of our banks poses a severe threat to the economic vitality of our town. Local businesses rely on accessible banking services to manage transactions, secure financing, and support growth and development.

"The absence of nearby banking facilities will impede their ability to thrive, potentially leading to job losses, decreased investment, and a decline in overall economic prosperity of the town."