THREE of the UK’s biggest banks have joined forces to trial a branch concept for business customers.

Following years of severe criticism from business groups over deep cuts to branch networks, NatWest (part of Royal Bank of Scotland), Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays are to trial the UK’s first shared business bank hubs in six locations.

The move comes as the UK’s major banks continue to come in for heavy criticism from groups such as the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) over major cuts to their branch networks in recent years.

The FSB says the closures are denying small businesses access to vital services such as depositing cash, particularly in rural areas across Scotland. It rebuffs arguments from banks that branches can be replaced by digital technology and mobile branches, noting that poor broadband coverage makes access to apps difficult in certain areas.

The participating banks say the Business Banking Hubs will allow businesses which manage cash and cheques to pay in large volumes of coins, notes and cheques, and complete cash exchange transactions. They will offer extended opening times, of 8am to 8pm seven days a week, to give customers greater flexibility.

The first hub opened in Birmingham yesterday.

Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking at NatWest, and tipped to be the next boss of Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “We have listened to what our business customers really want from our cash services. It is now more important than ever that we continue to offer innovative services, and we are creating an infrastructure that allows small business owners and entrepreneurs to do what they do best – run their business.”