TORONTO – Royal Bank’s decision to close 25 branches over the past year, mainly in city centres across Canada, is having a minimal impact on clients who increasingly favour an array of digital banking options, the company said Wednesday.
Neil McLaughlin, head of Canadian personal and commercial banking, says the decision to shutter an overabundance of locations in some areas was aimed at redirecting costs of its operations.
“The core focus is thinning out (our) dense urban branch footprint where we’re not really impacting the convenience for customers,” he told analysts during the bank’s third-quarter conference call.
“You may go from a two-minute drive to your branch to a three-minute drive.”
It’s part of a broader plan by the Toronto-based bank that included announcing 450 job cuts in June, mainly at its headquarters, and reinvesting in areas like data analytics and artificial intelligence.
RBC (TSX:RY) has rolled out new technologies designed to make it easier for customers to handle daily banking on their smartphones. It recently launched an option to pay bills using Siri, the voice assistant of Apple’s iPhone.
Those efforts helped the bank reach a milestone in the quarter where the total number of mobile banking sessions eclipsed online banking visits. Mobile transactions rose 40 per cent over the past year, it said.
The bank boosted its quarterly dividend by five per cent to 91 cents per share, but reported net income of $2.8 billion — a decrease of three per cent from last year when its bottom line was boosted by the sale of an insurance business.
Total revenue for the three months ended July 31 was $9.99 billion, down 2.6 per cent from a year ago.
Excluding one-time items, net income grew five per cent from the third quarter of fiscal 2016.
RBC is the first of Canada’s six biggest banks to report third-quarter financial results this year. CIBC (TSX:CM) reports on Thursday with the others reporting next week.
Banking analyst John Aiken of Barclays Capital said in a note to clients that the dividend increase was twice as big as expected.
“Although we and the Street had been expecting a drop in (RBC’s) earnings after a strong second quarter, (they) managed to exceed expectations on the back of impressive performances in its retail bank and wealth management platforms,” Aiken wrote.
The profit amounted to $1.85 per share of net income under generally accepted reporting, or $1.89 per share on an adjusted cash basis.
RBC booked $120 million in severance charges during the period, which CEO David McKay said was essential to reshaping the bank.
“We found ourselves a need to accelerate our transformation,” he said. “We moved kind of two years of work into two quarters.”
RBC’s wealth management division reported a 25 per cent increase in profits to $486 million, driven by stronger results from Los Angeles-based City National Bank, which it acquired nearly two years ago.
Better results from the U.S. operations led the bank to hire more than 450 employees stateside, particularly in New York, Washington and Minneapolis.
“New York’s a huge market and we’re just getting a small toe-hold in there,” McKay said.
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