Royal Bank of Scotland is to offer business loans within hours as part of a move to digitise the bank and bolster relations with small companies following alleged wrongdoing in its restructuring unit.

The state-backed bank is unveiling a digital site, dubbed “Esme”, under its NatWest brand that will allow small and medium-sized businesses to obtain loans quickly, even outside working hours.

Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking, said the launch came in response to the rise of “peer-to-peer” and other direct lending sites that provide loans quickly to smaller businesses.

She said: “The last thing SMEs want is to spend hours filling in paper work, so this allows them to quickly complete a digital process.”

Ms Rose added that SME lending “is a really big part of our engine of growth”.

Although more customers are increasingly seeking digital services, Ms Rose said the bank still placed importance on managers with a role to support SMEs.

“We know a relationship banker is so important if a company does get into distress. The relationship banker stays with them the whole way through.”

RBS will provide up to £150,000 for a maximum term of five years to small businesses — including those that are not customers of the bank.

The new lending site, developed in-house through the bank’s innovation lab, processes each step of the application from credit scoring to “know your customer” and “anti-money laundering” requirements.

Other banks have launched similar online services to provide faster loans. Last year, Santander UK joined forces with online lender Kabbage to provide small business with quick funding.

The launch comes after the bank was put in the spotlight for its treatment of small business customers who allegedly suffered at the hands of its controversial restructuring unit in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

RBS set aside almost £400m at the end of last year to compensate some of the small business owners and admitted that it “could have done better” for the 12,000 small concerns served by its now-defunct Global Restructuring Group. The bank rejected allegations that it had tried to profit from their distress.

The lending site is also part of a broader push to digitise services as the bank attempts to slash costs to buoy profits.

RBS is expected to unveil a fresh £800m cost-cutting plan next week alongside its full-year earnings which will represent its ninth consecutive annual loss.

The new cost-reduction measures are likely to be driven by the closure of high street branches and staff cuts, as the bank’s margins continue to be squeezed by record-low interest rates.

RBS has also struck a deal with a number of peer-to-peer sites over the past couple of years as a way to refer some smaller businesses that it is unable to finance.

The state-backed bank formed a partnership with a group of sites including Funding Circle to “expand choice” for customers with loan applications that do not meet the bank’s criteria.

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